An Unlikely Leader
June 25, 2018: Yesterday, we lost a game (at a big margin) to a team that really, well, wasn’t too special. It’s officially the most challenging season I’ve ever played in from a team standpoint, and for the past few weeks, I’ve had a difficult time remaining above water. Sometimes it feels like we cannot catch a break. Sometimes it feels like we are scared. Sometimes it feels like we just don’t want it. But whatever it is, it isn’t working.
The continual disappointment is taking a major toll on our team. Once creative, excited and energetic, we are so defeated now, and it shows: we barely have enough healthy players to field an entire squad.
In midst of all the things that I could find as negative, I want to highlight that there is (at least) one big ray of light who is stepping up. Her name is Beata, and at 17 years old, she is the youngest player on our team.
Yesterday, she scored our only goal (assisted by Hanna on a perfect cutback cross), and I have to share this picture of their reaction below, because this… THIS is what it is all about.
I have the pleasure/pain of often marking Beata at practice and I have to admit: I kind of hate it. The girl is constantly stepping on my toes, pushing me when I’m in the air, and slamming into me with all the weight of her 5”3 body (which doesn’t seem like it will hurt, but I can assure you, it does!). She goes in 100% to every tackle, and she always challenges for the air balls, despite being one of the smaller ones out there. She is fast… like very very fast, and in a time where so many of us are finding it hard to have the energy to work through the disappointment, Beata does. Inevitably, she is making me better, and all of those around her.
A few weeks ago, my dad, who is a damn tough critic, picked out Beata individually from our team, and told me that he believes in her. He predicted she would start scoring more.
“I hope so,” I replied.
“No, no… she will,” he insisted (my father is often right, which is usually annoying, but this time I would be okay with it).
Last week at training, I told her what he said. Just in passing, nothing special, but I figured she should know that she’s got a fan in my dad.
Our lead yesterday did not last for long, and at half time, I really lost it, in a very “come-to-Jesus” moment where I essentially reamed out the team for missing tackles, playing scared and acting like we didn’t want to be there. In Sweden, as I’ve mentioned, raw emotion does not reign supreme, and while my intensity probably scared the you-know-what out of some of them, it was important to me that the team girls saw the impassioned mix of anger, sadness, and desperation that has been building up in me for weeks now. If you’ve been on a team with me before, you know exactly what this speech sounded like (shout out to Power and Penn State, and even Woodson High School girls who I coached!!!). It’s not for everyone, I know, but I can no longer sit quietly and watch this season slip through our hands.
For the record, I won that ball hunnie 😘
Who knows if it worked, or if we calmed down, or if the wind blew more in our direction (it didn’t) but in the second half, we decided to battle, and while we didn’t finish any of the opportunities, it was much more a team to be proud of.
We took more chances, we were more aggressive, and we looked like a team who had a little fight in them. After several weeks off due to injury, my teammate Amanda came on the field for the last 15 minutes. I told her this yesterday, but when she made her first play, I was so happy my eyes welled up with tears. I love Amanda’s energy and the way her brain works on the field - off the field.. total weirdo ;) She is such a spark for us, and she just makes stuff happen. It’s awesome. Unfortunately, the lead Assi took in the first half was too much to come back from, and just like Sweden did over the weekend, we walked away with a loss for a game that we were leading in.
After my halftime speech and the second 45 minutes of the game, I had no energy left to give to the team, and for the first time this season, I cried. I had nothing left to give, and I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. We all were. Heads down and hearts heavy, we headed back to Uppsala.
After a 17-hour day, I got in bed and saw message in our team group chat from Beata that read (IN ENGLISH - rarity!!): “Let’s go to sleep now, wake up tomorrow and have fun this week. If we all play with our hearts and remember that we play football because we love it, I know we can come back stronger next weekend.”
Well that did it for me, and again, I started crying, but this time because I was so proud of her, and so happy to see that despite the hole we’ve dug ourselves into, not everyone has given up.
Sometimes you find leadership in places you don’t expect to see it, and yesterday, it was our little young one, Beata, who stepped up to the plate. It’s a pleasure to play with her, and I expect big things in the future.
Like she said, we play this silly sport because we love it, and if you can hold onto that even when things aren’t going well, then you can – and will – rise above.
Until then, peace love and football.