Code Words for 2011: Play Happy

CHONGQING, China — Somewhere in my journal, “2011″ is written big and bold across an entire page. The same thing is hanging on a piece of paper on the wall of my room in New Jersey. I wrote them two years ago, signifying my goal — to represent my country in the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany. Also in my journal is written “2008,” the year of the last Olympics. I did not achieve that goal.

“But without pain, there’s no pleasure. Without failing, there’s no success. I’m a perfectionist who’s not perfect.” — Ron Artest

I love that quotation. I’ve been playing this sport for 17 years. How, after all that time, can it still have the power to simultaneously make me feel so motivated, defeated, excited, demoralized and inspired?

My journey, like anyone’s who is passionate about something in their life, rolls along like the ocean’s waves. It never settles, never ceases to make my stomach churn, makes me uneasy with doubts and insecurities, yet it embodies a power like none other. The disappointments make the successes even more special, and striving for perfection in this “un-perfectable” game makes the chase so exciting.

This year presents me with new and exciting opportunities.

First, to accomplish a childhood dream: the possibility of making the World Cup roster. Also, a new W.P.S. club team and brand new franchise, the Western New York Flash. Both will be adventures, filled with their unique challenges and opportunities. But what I’ve come to realize is this: equally important to how you deal with the results of any challenge is how you approach it. I have decided that my fútbol motto for the year is “play happy.”

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of playing not to make mistakes (which are inevitable anyway), in fear of squandering this wonderful chance. But I’d rather enjoy the challenge, and approach it with a smile on my face, like the 9-year-old me, who explored the sport she loved with complete abandon, and decided, on a whim, that she would dedicate her life to it.

As I write this, I am on the other side of the world in China. My journey has begun and I’m with the national team at the Four Nations Tournament where we will face Sweden, Canada and China.

It took us a solid 24 hours to get here, and I’ve finally adjusted to the 13-hour time difference. It couldn’t be more different than the Home Depot Center in L.A., where most training camps are held — from the language, to the smells, to the food options, to the man running across the street holding a chicken in his hand. But I find that when I step on the field, it’s all the same.

Fútbol is fútbol, no matter where you are (one reason why I love this game so much). For those moments when I’m out there playing, my only focus is doing my very best and working hard to get better and try to earn the right to step on the field to represent my country. If I am able to do those things, I will be very happy. But to be able to do them, I must “play happy.”

As I encounter these opportunities in the New Year, I know, without question, how I will cope with the inevitable turbulence. Those are the skills I have honed over the years, although it is still never easy. The new challenge is how I will face the waves. And my aim is to run into them, with a smile on my face, ready to be knocked down as many times as it takes to finally catch the one that will take me to new heights.

So, welcome to my blog in 2011. My aim is to share with you my thoughts and experiences as candidly and thoroughly as I am able.