Brace yourself, this is a long one!
We’re four weeks in now, and I feel like I’m in a little bit of a groove. I have a vivid memory of sitting in my apartment in Massachusetts saying to a friend “I just want to get the first two weeks over with. After that, I will feel better.” And don’t you know it, but that was the truth. I’ll call the first two weeks a bit of a grace period, and it is important to give yourself one; whether you are coming back from an injury, or just starting on a new team, it’s only natural that it is going to take a little time to feel completely comfortable. For me, it was after our second match in the Swedish Cup (week 3) that I felt settled in, and my teammates got to see what I can really do.
I’ve mentioned before, tirelessly at this point, that I am a game player. This isn’t to say that I don’t work at practice – I do, I work my butt off – but you cannot see what I bring to the table until you’re on a big field. At least, that is what I think. Anyway. So I am comfortable now. And don’t you know it, as soon as I felt comfortable, I had a bad practice, at least by my standards. I can blame it on a few things: maybe it was some nagging injuries that popped up after a few tough weeks. Maybe it was that I was dealing with a few non-football related things that had my mind in a few different places. Or maybe, just maybe, it was just a bad day, no more no less. But whatever it was, I felt that every decision I made was wrong. I was in my head and I couldn’t dig myself out. By the end of training I was steaming, and had to just walk away to cool off a bit. It took me three days and a trip to Copenhagen to feel normal again, but I can report that yesterday at training, I felt myself. So, with all that said, let’s talk about life in-season.
If you’re following along you’ll remember that last week I touched on what I did in the offseason to prepare. Looking back at this winter at home, I am sure there was probably more I could have done, but the reality is, the first few days and weeks are always going to hit you like a semi truck, and that is putting it lightly.
A brief anecdote from my freshman year at Penn State. I trained hard all summer leading up to preseason. I followed our fitness packet to a T, and I was on two competitive teams that practiced multiple times during the week and played in games.
On day one, I felt ready. I aced the fitness testing, and somehow, I held my own during the two training sessions. I was tired but hey! I was prepared for this. On day two, when my alarm went off, I slowly put two feet on the cold floor of the dorm. I braced myself to stand, and half way up I LITERALLY collapsed on to the ground. My legs were totally shot. One day into preseason, twenty to go. BAM goes the semi truck. But, the semi truck hits and you limp away, and you push on, and here we are. Look at little baby Jessie - I had just turned 21, and it was my senior year. So young, so fresh, so full of life - ha!
Anyway, while we're still sort of preaseason for the league games, we've begun some competition, so for all intensive purposes, the season is here. Here is a look into what a typical week looks like for me, from a football perspective:
8:15-9:30 AM morning training with our U19 players
5:30-6:00 PM team meeting, including film or the plan for the week
6:00-7:30 PM evening training with my team
5:45-7:15 PM evening training with my team, usually our hardest day of the week, including lots of small sided games, defensive work and fitness
Anytime recovery jog/stretch/yoga* poses in my living room (*not sure I can call it yoga, I just lay there and try to move my legs around)
5:45-7:15 PM gym session with my team (weight training, consisting of squats, deadlifts, bench press, pull ups, shoulder press, a flexibility test, a broad jump test, and some other odds n ends)
5:45-7:15 PM evening training with my team (usually 11v11)
8:15-9:30 AM morning training/individual technical session
4:45-5:15 PM team meeting/film on opposition/game plan for the weekends’ match
5:15-8:15 PM light team training, including maybe some tactics, small sided games, crossing/finishing
Game day, so 90 minutes of everything you have
Couch life – aka recovery. This looks different to everyone, but for me, I just try to stay off my feet, do some stretching and rehab from the week of playing to prepare for the next. I wear a FitBit, and on average I’m taking about 134,000 steps, or roughly 60 miles a week. It is safe to say that by Sunday, all I want to do is eat ice cream and watch movies. It’s a long season. We have 26 games and eight more months of playing ahead of us, so I have to be smart.
Speaking of smart, everyday, I should also be doing my prehab/rehab which consists of some balance/stablility work for my ankle and deep stretches for my hips/glutes. I am admittedly not so good at the recovery component of playing. I forget to stretch, hate cooling down and in Sweden, they do not believe in ice/icebaths, so that takes away a huge component for me. I am the icebath queen!! Alas, no luck here. However, I did fill up a bag with snow and use that on my hip on a particularly tough evening, and it worked. As I said last week with regard to training, but also in regards to most things in life, if you want it bad enough, you will make it happen. So there I was, with a bag of snow on my hip. Get-r-done.
You’ll notice that on Monday and on Friday, I have two sessions. These are optional, but they are important. Often in my training sessions with my team, I don’t get the chance to really focus on the things I may need to work on for my individual game: for me, it’s usually mid and long range passing. This season I’ve really been struggling to hit a ball over the top, and it’s driving me bananas. I'm not sure if it is a strength or a technique thing but I am determined to get it back. My coach is really working with me on how to hit the ball. I’m 30 years old, I’ve been playing for 25 years, and here I am learning how to kick the ball. The process never ends, and somestimes, it is incredibly humbling. These extra sessions are the difference maker. Maybe you need to work on finishing, fitness, or 1v1 defending, and this is the time to do it. Grab a teammate or ask a coach if you can set aside a couple of hours a week to work with them. I did this as a youth player one winter, and I came back in the spring as a transformed footballer – truly. We also did this at Penn State, and I am convinced those Tuesday and Thursday mornings with my Assistant Coach Michael were what earned me a starting spot.
Don’t just do what you have to do. Buy into the extras. It will pay off.
But that said, with all the extras, during the season it’s important to be checking in with your body regularly. I wear a heart rate monitor most days so I can follow along with my fitness, but we also report our resting heart rate to our trainers daily, take note of how many hours we’ve slept, and rate our soreness on a scale of 1-5. Most things are measurable. My favorite measurement is the heart rate though, because you can’t hide from the results: you can see your fitness level and you can see how hard you’re working. If you’ve finished a training session or a game and you never hit the red, you’re not working hard enough. Similarly, if you’re in a recovery session and you’re in the orange/red most of the time, you need to take it down a notch. Listen to your body, and if it helps, start measuring things so you can track patterns. (PS: I use a Polar HR 7 [heart rate monitor] which has a really handy App available on smart phones).
In season, (and in life) there are two categories of things: things you can control, and things you cannot. I’ll give you one guess about which one you should be concerned with.
Football related, your attitude, your effort, how you prepare: (your fitness, your diet, your sleep, your extracurricular activities) are all things that are within your control.
On the contrary, the weather, your coach, your teammates, injuries, your opponents are all things you need to just deal with. I have some insight to share with you for dealing with some of these things more specifically, but that will have to be another time.
Pour yourself into the things you can control, and for the rest, hope for the best. Until then, work hard, train smart, and see ya next week. Peace, love and football.