What is next?
September 5, 2018: It has been quite a long time since I’ve sat down to write. Part of this comes from being busy, part from not knowing what to write about, and part just because so much of what I want to say now isn’t the easiest to articulate.
We are now seven months into this season, and I’m becoming incredibly introspective about the experience. While there is plenty of games to go, all I can think about is the seven months behind me, and I’m starting to realize… it’s coming to an end.
The “end” is both the best and the worst thing about the experience. After 9 months of playing day in and day out, you’re often ready for a break. The end of the season signifies going home, or traveling, or seeing friends and family. It means giving your body a break from the constant stress it’s under. It’s mending the injuries, it’s recuperating from the mental challenges. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
On the other hand, it’s the absolute worst. The end means goodbyes to the people you’ve so seriously bonded with. It means a major change in lifestyle. It means leaving a place and knowing you may not return for a long, long time. It means that the structure is ending, leaving a lot of question marks in its place for what is to come.
When you live this lifestyle, you sort of have to live by the seat of your pants. A friend of mine just a couple of months ago had two hours to decide if she wanted to sign with a team and leave that same week to move across the world, without any friends and family, to play abroad for the first time. TWO HOURS. Not a lot of time to weigh the pros and cons. But this is our reality. Fortunately for me, I’ve never had to make that decision. On the contrary, I typically agonize over the decision for a few months leading up to it. After every season we are faced with that. Do we return home, to what is comfortable, stable and safe? Or do we say yes, hop on another plane to the unknown, and take the cards as they are dealt to us?
Earlier this week, I woke up with a memory on Facebook from last year. To catch you up, this time last year, I was playing near Brisbane, Australia for a team called Peninsula Power. It was my first time playing outside of the United States, and I had (literally) not a clue what to expect. My team had a bit of a fairy tale year. We went from being second to last in 2016, to the top of the table in 2017. We were undefeated in the regular season, with just one draw. Going into the finals, we were definitely the top choice, but the team we had to face, for the fourth time that year, has won the title many years in a row, and were not planning on going down without a fight. I don’t want to bore you with all the details of that match, but we won, in the last minute of double overtime, on a goal I scored. It was easily one of the top 5 moments of my life. We walked away being league Premiers and Champions. Like I said, fairy tale. The season ended and immediately I was faced with the omnipresent question: what is next?
One week after winning the Grand Final, I remember sitting in an airport in Thailand on holiday frantically trying to figure out the answer to that very question. I sent close to 50 emails to teams in Germany, in Austria, in Sweden and beyond, and out of those, two stand out today as being the important ones.
The first email was to Martyn Hollands, some soccer guy at a club in Plymouth, close to where I’d be spending time in my undefined “offseason.” I was just looking for some coaching jobs to make up some of the money I lost in Australia. We connected via Skype, at 5AM (for him), just a few days later, and it was settled right there and then, that when I got home two weeks later that I’d start working for…. you guessed it! Liverpool FC International Academy.
The second email was to an info@ email address associated with IK Uppsala. Gunnar, the Manager responded to my email almost immediately, which was strange, because I either got a lot of no response at all, or an occasional “not interested” or “maybe” response a few days later. In my gut in that moment, I had a feeling I’d be boarding a plane to Sweden sometime soon. What I didn’t realize is that it would be roughly 2 weeks after landing back in the States, after 2 months without training. But in those moments, you trust your gut, and you just say yes. You all know what happened, and I was signing with Uppsala by mid-November.
And here we are, almost exactly one year from the first email I wrote to Uppsala, and the time has passed in the blink of an eye. It’s been seven months since I stepped off the plane at Arlanda Airport, wide eyed (not really, I was probably half asleep), and excited for the months to come. Nine months would be a long time, I thought. We’d have a great team, and we’d compete for the top spot in the league. I’d see Europe and check a lot off my bucket list.
I’ve not been secretive that the cards this year have … challenging… to say the least. The first few weeks I was here, I thought it would be impossible for us to not win entire league. I was actually nervous that if we did win the league it might be impossible to not stay around for another season. But that is not what happened. In fact, it was quite the opposite. And it killed me. Truthfully, it still does. But it wasn’t just soccer that was challenging. On and off the field, I’ve hit more roadblocks here than I ever have in my life. But I have learned a lot, including the art of patience, acceptance, and how to live day by day.
But even in the day by day, it’s clear there is less in front of me than there is behind. So while I’m soaking it all in, it’s impossible to not look forward and revisit what I said earlier… what is next?
This season ending in particular is something I feel incredibly ambivalent about… and it’s not because I’ll miss the Swedish fika (even though of course I will, for sure). No, this season brings on another set of difficulties. And it’s something that every player in this history of playing has either faced or will be facing. Is this my last season?
You see so many people are ready to stop playing. Many of my friends outgrew competitive soccer in high school, and if not by then, certainly by the end of college. I did too, for a period, or at least I tried to. It didn’t work so well for me, hence the quarter life crisis, quit your job, put all your stuff in storage, move to another country situation.
And I believed, I truly believed, that once I signed a professional contract and played overseas I’d be ready. That I would feel like I had done it, and that I could finally retire for good. But the thing is, I’m not. I’m really not. The idea of hanging it up forever at best makes me tear up, and at worst leads to a hysterical outburst of uncontrollable sorrow. Deep, deep sorrow. Like a lost loved one sorrow. And no one tells you that. No one tells you when you’re just a kid, and you get a ball, and you’re running around having fun. No one says, “hey kid, some day, this is going to end… so enjoy it.”
But I’m here to tell you, even when it isn’t easy, you must enjoy the time you’ve got.
Enjoy every practice. Enjoy every early morning. Enjoy every time you have to say no to something else because you have a game, or a tournament, or you just have to rest. Because you are a part of something that is finite. And I promise you, one day, you can go to all the parties. You can get a job. You can travel. You can start your family. But you cannot always play. Not like the way you’re playing now. Not for me at least.
At some point, maybe this year, or maybe next… it’s going to be over for me. The dream will be complete, and I will wake up in another chapter of life. A great chapter, absolutely, but a different one. A part of me, inevitably, will die. And don’t you dare think for one second that I’m being dramatic about this. It’s true. When this journey ends, it’s going to hurt. And I’m going to look back and remember all the wonderful moments, and somehow gloss over those that were more painful.
But for now, I’m going to try and not think about that. Instead, I’m going to put my cleats on one at a time and play another day. Because I can, and I love it, and I could never know if this is the last chance I’ll get.
Peace, love and football.