Okay, let me tell you a story about something I find very important. In fact, I think this might be one of the great lessons we should all learn during one lifetime. Maybe some are born with the knowledge. Some may never get it. I believe I’ve finally realised it, the hard way.
Well, let me start.
As long as I can remember performance has been crucial to me. To get good grades in school. Only MVG (the highest grade) was good enough. I felt ashamed that I didn’t understand enough to get MVG in french. I used to say that my knowledge within that field made me feel stupid, something I had rarely experienced before.
I wanted to perform the perfect football. Never do any mistakes. If I did, it would haunt me during the evening and maybe even the following day(s). I wasn’t supposed to be a failure. I was talented and I was the one being picked first to the all-start team in Halmstad, at Elitflicklägret. I was not a failure, I was in fact going to be the best in the world.
If I made a mistake or didn’t perform as well as I would’ve liked, I would practice and come back stronger and better. Because that was what you were supposed to do if you wanted to be, or if you were, successful. If you were still, your competitor would be training, so don’t sit still. I still believe you need to train very hard, but there is a limit to how much you need to push yourself before things starts to go downhill.
I pictured myself climbing some sort of steps. If something went wrong it would take longer time to climb the next step and others would get ahead.
A man I used to work with once said, “the one who has the most knowledge when he dies win”. I guess it stuck with me because he described the last step. It was meant to be sarcastic and describe how meaningless our strive is. I didn’t understand it then, but I believe I understand it now.
It wasn’t really until after the Olympics back in 2012 that I started acting on all small lessons life actually had given to me during my long career. I think it was my body forcing me to do it, because the mind was so set on the next goal that I didn’t really pay attention to the signs that was given to me.
I forced myself to play even though I felt sick, several times because I was so afraid of losing my spot. It resulted in long periods of sickness, every day I was stressed that I didn’t train as I was supposed to. I had a sore tongue for a few days every month. I didn’t understand why and I didn’t care to search deeper to a more logic explanation when the doctor said it was due to a normal cold. It would go away. It did, but next month it came back.
After being sick for four days straight we had a game in Damallsvenskan. Our second goalkeeper was injured. I had to play, everyone relied on me. I couldn’t let them down. Why, I do not know. In the second half I had to rush out and make a quick change of direction. My ACL disapproved and tore. It was a great example of me ignoring the messages my body tried to give me, because it was so important to always perform, to not be left behind when the others continued the climb. Even after the accident I didn’t leave the field, because I waited for the coaches to change me. I jumped around on one leg for twenty minutes. If something like that would happen today I would have enough self-respect to get off the field and take care of myself.
A period of rehab followed. I got severe problems with acne and that adding to me feeling ashamed for my performance in the Olympics earlier that year that, truly made me believe that everyone at the rehab place was looking at me, blaming me for our loss against France in the quarter-final, thinking I was ugly and a big failure.
I broke down. The trigger was when I spent one night alone in a hotel room and I missed the breakfast. I had put the wrong alarm time on. I barely made it back in my room when I remember crying and crying and crying. I called someone. I said “I think I need help”.
From that I had to rebuild myself. I went to see a sports psychologist. He made me feel a bit like everyone else again. He assured me that what I felt was in our nature. He also challenged me to do things that had frightened me for a long time, like calling up a friend asking them to spend some time one on one. I also got help from the doctor that volunteered for Kristianstads DFF. He took some time to listen to me and analysed my answers. The sore tongue could be symptom of something more severe than a cold. He ran some tests and the result showed severe lack of B12 and folic acid which can cause symptoms like depression. I got shots for two weeks straight and got back to normal values. I now know I have to take these supplements for the rest of my life, since my body doesn’t get it from food, also something that can be when you are diagnosed with Vitiligo, as I am.
The following summer was the Euro in Sweden. I had been an ambassador for the tournament for several years, knowing how important an event like this would be for the Swedish footballers and for our future stars. My biggest fear was soon to come, that I would no longer be Sweden’s number one.
All my life I had been so talented, I had had so much expectation on myself. Almost the whole time I felt like I could only fail and never win. If I performed well it was the way it was supposed to be. If I failed, I would get hammered with critique. During the World Cup 2011 and the Olympics 2012 I had so much bad press. Someone even bothered writing a paper about people being badly treated by the press and my name was in it (amongst others). Back then I felt like I was the only one in the world getting those kind of headlines. Being not even the second goalkeeper in the Euro, but the third goalkeeper gave me a great opportunity to step back and look at things with different eyes.
Now I know that someone else is exposed every day. I now understand the business behind it and can accept that my life will consist of the risk of getting all the blame. It’s the price to pay if I want to play the important games.
The picture of the steps are gone. Instead I look at the world as it is made up by circles, in a more flat kind of way. I can even see myself stepping away from football for a year or two, and still have the belief that I would be able to make it back. New people come into the game all the time, and the same knowledge has to be taught over and over. There are no such things as steps. It’s just about adjusting the different circles so that they work well together.
So much more can be said about this, but to finish off I’d like to give another example of what I mean. Today at practice we played 11 v 11 and I got the opportunity to study the game while I was in the middle of it. I tried to do some kind of analysis on the difference between Kristianstad and Chelsea. Were there any? In what way in that case? It got me thinking that what works well in one club, might work bad in the other and the other way around, and maybe that’s just the way it has to be. A few years ago I would’ve been angry and frustrated over tactics that wasn’t in place or not getting the laundry done, but now I understand that some circles has to do their work before others can take over. Maybe someone has to have a certain chat to someone else before the message about developing a certain skill can land properly. Or maybe someone has to have a special experience before it is time to decide on whether or not the Ladies team should have a bigger budget. Everything runs in circles and there is no rush.
I do look forward to the World Cup and the FA WSL. It feels like I’ve started the second half of my career with the difference that I don’t give a dime of what people think any more.
I no longer feel stressed, I just enjoy the circle I am in right now.
A professional goalkeeper who plays for Chelsea Ladies in the English FA WSL. Previous clubs include Kristianstads DFF, Malmö FF, Linköpings FC and Kopparbergs/Göteborg FC. Achieved 97 caps for the Sweden women’s national football team so far.