I’ve become experienced in change. I definitely don’t like it. Scratch that — I dread it. But I’ve gotten a lot of practice and have learned a thing or two. The part I dislike most are the lasts. The last time playing pickup in the off-season; the last dinner with friends; the last night sleeping in my own bed.
Just as I dread the lasts, I am also apprehensive about the firsts. The first night in a new apartment in a strange city; the first time meeting a new group of teammates; the first practice session — which is often some form of fitness/athletic testing; the first time playing in front of new coaches, who are forming opinions.
Change has become an integral part of my life and career. Recently, I packed up and drove from Washington to Kansas City. My life transitioned nearly as quickly as the highways went from hilly to flat. And just as the lasts came and went, so did the firsts. I settled into my new apartment and have reconnected with some former teammates and close friends.
This season I will be living with Rebecca Moros (whom I met when we played for the same regional team when we were 13) and Heather O’Reilly (whom I played with at th University of North Carolina for two seasons and also on Sky Blue F.C. for my first two years as a professional). Jen Buczkowski, another member of F.C. Kansas City, was a teammate on Sky Blue F.C. and the under-19 national team. And I played and traveled through Russia and Europe with the F.C. Kansas City veteran Leigh Ann Robinson for a month. So while there is a lot new here, there is also much that is very reassuringly familiar.
Now, instead of dreading change, I am trying to find comfort in it. Preseason with a new team is always different, but it also brings reassuring sensations. There is the soreness from slightly overworked muscles, the grind of multiple sessions in one day, and the mental fatigue of always being on the go. Those familiar discomforts bring a certain sense of comfort, and a set of personal do’s and don’ts that I think can be applied to undergoing any period of intense change.
■ Respect the adjustment period. While I always try to be as well prepared as possible, I don’t want to peak during preseason. The first time playing 11v11 after a winter of small-sided and indoor training is always an adjustment. I try to make the transition smoothly and consistently. Being a professional is about the ability to bring your best effort day in and day out.
■ Don’t save energy. Although consistency is the aim, preseason is a time to expend energy and prepare for the demands of an entire season, not just the first game, and so it demands maximum effort. It’s supposed to be intense and leave you sore. There’s always time to scale back later.
■ Stay mentally engaged. There is a grind about preseason and it is certainly not just physical. Waking up early, training hard, recovering, and doing it all again is mentally exhausting. It takes a conscious effort to stay tuned in and prepared to learn. This could be as simple as connecting with teammates, or remaining focused during the second session of the day when the team is training a nuanced detail of building out of the back.
■ Balance is key. Don’t think about soccer during your time off. There are always tons of situations to analyze, whether it is team-wise or personally. I try to let my down time be down time. I have indulged in the Kansas City barbecue that everyone recommends and tried to make some friends outside the team. I also want to get involved in the community by coaching and working with youth players.
Beyond those rules, I am constantly working to maintain an emotional distance from the ups and downs that my confidence can naturally take. The season hasn’t even started, so if I already find myself on an emotional roller coaster, I will be in for a rough one once the games begin. Just as preseason training builds a physical reserve to last through the season, it must build an emotional reserve, too.
As I try to make my way to training without using my GPS or to figure out which will be my go-to grocery store, Kansas City is slowly becoming home. Just as quickly as the first week of preseason flew by — when learning everyone’s names was nearly as stressful as the physical and technical testing we did — we are soon approaching the last days of that preseason.
The team has one more week to gel, to prepare and then to fine-tune before our opener on April 12. As we do the hard work to build a common understanding and the physical, mental, and emotional bank from which we will draw throughout the season, I’m sure our preparation will pay off.