Game Is Beautiful, on and Off the Field

“Everyone knows what offside is but no one can explain it. It’s the same as love.” Amazing quotation!

I heard it at the end of the German film “Eine Andere Liga” (“Another League”) at the second Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Festival in New York City.

I helped to introduce the film with Ethan Zohn (the winner of “Survivor: Africa” and the founder of GrassrootSoccer). I talked a little bit about the power of the game and how fútbol has influenced my life and had such a great impact on me emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically. More importantly, though, I listened to Ethan speak and was inspired by him and all that he does to give back through the game. I was honored to be surrounded by a crowd of people who love the game from a different perspective than I’m used to. I am so involved in the day-to-day world of players and coaches that it was really refreshing to meet and speak with new people who primarily view the game as a way to bring people together and influence social change. It reminded me once again how powerful the beautiful game can be.

The film was moving and I found that I could relate to it in many ways. It’s about a young Turkish woman in Germany who loves fútbol and receives a diagnosis of breast cancer. She finds redemption through the game, which helps her to regain her strength, battle the illness and move forward with her life. Although the players in the film were not especially elite, they were not meant to be. There was little emphasis on success on the field, but instead importance was placed on the personal relationships created and the rewards of being part of a team.

I’ve found that throughout my professional career thus far (all two, long but fascinating years of it) I go through phases of learning and having new realizations. And it always seems that I learn the lessons that I need right at the appropriate time, when I am so ready for them … ready for new inspiration. The people involved with Kicking & Screening, as well as viewing the film, reminded me that my involvement in this game goes beyond last weekend’s game or yesterday’s practice. It goes beyond the goals I have posted on my bedroom wall, or my training plan written in my journal. Fútbol gives us the power to connect with people, to influence and in turn to be influenced in ways that are truly special. Just when I start to fret about my performance, or a slightly strained hamstring, or not having enough energy to do my weight lifting after a long day, things are put back into perspective so quickly … fútbol is about much, much more than that.

I wish that I had more free time to take part in events like this, or to get involved with fútbol more off the field, but it’s a challenge to do this during the season. While I do try to keep a broad perspective, my focus has to be on the here and now.

Right now, Sky Blue F.C. is in fourth place. We traveled to Philly to play last past weekend, and although we felt that we played most of the game in our attacking half, we lost 2-1. The result was especially disappointing because we didn’t feel that it represented the flow of the game. After playing for a dominant college program (North Carolina), where three losses my junior year tied us with the worst season in the history of the program, it’s strange to get used to losing. No, we don’t plan to lose, nor do we accept it, but during the long W.P.S. season, and given the quality of every opponent, a handful of losses are inevitable.

Similarly, individuals will have ups and downs. This year I’ve found that I am not analyzing each practice and game as much as last year. I don’t get as hung up on every comment from our coaching staff, read media match reports and replay situations over and over in my head. I do try to learn from my successes and failures, but once it’s done, it’s done. It’s liberating to be able to move on. I already care more about the game than what is probably a healthy amount, and I have a clear vision of the player I want to be and what it takes to get there. So it is helpful for me to keep moving along that track and keep the outside influences to a minimum, while expanding the joy and inspiration I find in the game.

This newly adopted approach also allows me to better enjoy so many other aspects of playing. When I’m not so concerned about results and outside input, I can be focused in the moment to do the best that I can and enjoy doing what I love with such talented, funny, and interesting people.

Speaking of the people in the W.P.S., one of my long-time friends and teammates, Nikki Krzysik, plays for Philly. I’ve known Nikki since we were 10 years old, when we traveled to England together to tour and play a couple games. We live about seven minutes from each other in New Jersey, and played on the same World Class club team from the time we were 15 until we went to college. Nikki is one of my best friends and it’s always fun to play with and against her. I’ll always remember the first time we played against each other during our freshman year of college. When Nikki’s University of Virginia team came to play in Chapel Hill, we scored first, and I remember running back past her and kind of smiling, like, “Ha, I went to the better school!” Then U.V.A. tied it up, and she ran past me, with the same smirk. We joke about it now, but the friendly rivalry has continued. In fact, I had the urge to go run past Nikki after we tied up the game this weekend, just to return that smirk, but she was on the other side of the field and my legs really couldn’t afford the extra 40-yard run after our goal.

I find that on most W.P.S. teams I have several close friends or former teammates. The league is still small enough that most of us know one another, and although we plan to destroy each other on the field, it is always great to catch up after the game. It’s amazing how we slide tackle one another, yell at each other for fouling our teammates, and do everything possible to win, but at the end of 90 minutes embrace like none of it happened and genuinely smile and say, “I miss you. How have you been?!” Now that I think of it, it’s similar to the message in “Eine Andere Liga”: the game is about so much more than what happens on the field.

This week, Sky Blue F.C. travels to Boston. We are planning to drive up in time to watch the U.S./England World Cup game. I’m so excited for the World Cup to start! Our team is doing a pool in which we predict the score and winner of every group game. My money is on Spain to win the whole thing (I will still be cheering for the U.S. men, but $5 was on the line, so I had to go with my fútbol favorites of the moment).

More to come as I continue my journey. I am so grateful to be involved in the beautiful game!