Blank Page

When the author is writing a story, he must constantly go back to the blank page and fill it in. One of my most entertaining teachers I had at St. Francis University, who referred to himself as The D-Man, had written a few books in his time – including the textbook for his class. As a fully tenured professor on the brink of retirement, he had a story or two to tell and class typically went off on a tangent or two.

One of my favorite stories that he told was about meeting President Ronald Reagan. I may get some of the little details wrong here, but it was when he was a young professor at an Ivy League school and Reagan was coming to give a speech. My teacher knew he would be meeting the president, so he began building up the moment in his mind and trying to think of what to say to show his appreciation and admiration. What came out was “Hey Ron, I’m the D-Man!”

And then he did this...

And then he did this…

Students were always trying to pick his brain for interesting stories or advice from him…or sometimes they were just trying to waste time in class. Students interested in stroking his ego and getting some brownie points (me) would ask him about his books. This was a topic he was always happy to talk about. It’s nothing he said about his books specifically that stuck with me, but rather what he said about writing a book. He said something to the effect of “you come to the page and you write one word, and then another, and then another…and then you do that again”.

I am doing what you might call a creativity program with my sister, Clare, called “The Artist’s Way”. Similar to what the D-Man said, the Artist’s Way stresses “showing up at the page”. Whether you are a writer, a poet, a painter, a screenwriter, designer, musician, etc… you have to be willing to show up at the page or the canvas and let yourself fill it.

I have the chance to “show up at the virtual page” every time that I write a new blog. What I find in the process is that I show up with a general idea of what I’ll write, but then the post takes on a life of it’s own. Then, when it’s finished, I sometimes sit back and say “Wow, where did all those ideas come from?”

For instance, I remember one of my posts from last year called “The Missing Ball“. I came to the page planning on writing little update about how I had lost a ball while training and ended up writing quite a bit about No-Shave November…and the humility I suffer from my lack of ability to participate in it. Like untended facial hair, a blog can often take on a life of it’s own as well.

Not acceptable

Not acceptable

Getting out on the field and playing soccer is an incredibly similar process. The pitch is the blank canvas, the empty page. You have to take the chance to show up. Then the game takes on a form of its own and you get to impress your unique talents upon the outcome. The more pages you fill, the more comfortable you get with the process and the more you can develop and improve. It’s when you don’t get the chance show up on the page when things get frustrating.

So, after being back at Hungerford Town for the last few weeks, I did get the chance to play in two games. In the first game, in a single elimination tournament, we played a team a league below called Bishop’s Cleeve. I played for about the last 25 minutes and did quite well, although we had already essentially won the game when I entered the match at 3-0. I played on the right wing and nearly got a goal. We won the game 4-0 in the end in a comfortable performance. It was nice to get a run out since I hadn’t played for a few weeks since my return from the Thatcham Town loan which I mentioned.

The next game, we played in another local Cup/Tournament against a team in a lower division called Whitchurch United FC. I got to play 90 minutes in central midfield and did well. We ended up dominating and winning the game, but we only managed to score 1 on the night. It felt good to get a full game. I was able to successfully fill the canvas, but not having played a complete game in a while, it wasn’t my most fluent and impressive display.

Having only had these two opportunities to play and signs of more chances on the horizon, despite solid performances, I requested to go back out on loan. I really need to get a significant stretch of games to find some consistent form and rhythm in my game. I need more chances to show up at the page and improve my confidence and my ability to influence and dictate the pages that I play a part in. At this point, If I’m not getting the chance to even show up, then I won’t get anywhere.

Therefore, I’m back out on loan at a club in the division below called Fleet Town FC. So far they have really been struggling this season. They are second to last in their league and haven’t won in about two months, so my work was cut out for me. It was an exciting and yet difficult challenge to try to help them get their season back on track. My first game with them was last Saturday. We ended up tying 0-0 against a mid-table side called Evesham United. I played full 90 minutes and if the game was a piece of music, it would have resembled a heavy metal rave, rather than a classical concerto. In other words, it was a bit of a battle and far from the prettiest, most technical game I’ve played in.

Calthorpe Park - Home of Fleet Town FC. The slope on this pitch from end to end is so drastic that it effects tactics considerably.

Calthorpe Park – Home of Fleet Town FC. The slope on this pitch from end to end is so drastic that it effects tactics considerably.

While it was a good start, seeing as we didn’t lose, I know that personally I have much more to offer and I’m looking forward to the next game! I’ve recently come to enjoy, and even crave, coming back to the blank page and impressing myself upon whatever unfolds. So, now I have an itch to walk out onto the pitch again as soon as possible and to take one stride at a time, just as the artist takes one stroke at a time. In this way, I will consistently create new work and eventually, I will have my masterpiece.

Until next time, don’t be afraid to face the blank page. Write a word and you are on your way.

Peace,

Seano

Advertisements

The Missing Ball

Before anyone asks it, or even thinks it, this has nothing to do with the recent Mo-vember movement or any form of male cancer. Not that it isn’t a good cause, its a great cause – even if I can’t participate, well wait, does whisker count? Whisker-vember just doesn’t go well, so I humbly cheer on other mustaches from the sideline.

Hmm, this post is slowly becoming about Mo-vember even though I said it wasn’t.

Story time!

When I was back at St. Francis University, I think it was my Junior year, most of the guys on the soccer team decided to do the whole No-Shave-November thing. Come to think of it, I think we were rebelling and decided to do No-Shave-till-November, so it was actually October.

I went along with it. It was a sad effort on all our parts and I think overall only 2-3 people made it the whole month. It definitely wasn’t as big of a deal that year as it has become now. As a matter of fact, it was the first time I had heard of it. This year it was wild, I felt like everyone had some kind of facial growth going. I know in the football world it was all over the place: players, coaches, pundits alike were all slowly turning into cave men. Loved It!

Georgie Best! Sports a handsome beard back in his day.

Georgie Best! Sports a handsome beard back in his day.

You almost miss the stache, with the classic Valderrama hair!

You almost miss the stache, with the classic Valderrama hair!

As it turned out, I was one of those two or three people on my team who didn’t shave for a month. As it also turned out, no one knew.

A night or two after the month was over, I walked over to the sink in my room and casually mentioned “I guess I can shave now”. My roommate, Benny, who could grow a carpet on his face in just a few days, sat straight up and said something along the lines of “WHAAAAA? BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!”, “You haven’t…HAHAHA”, “Sean…BAHAHAHHA”, “You haven’t shaved? HAHAHAHA!!!!”, “FOR A MONTH! BAHAHAHA”. Before I could answer he had run down the hall and told everyone. My No-Shave-Till-November campaign had, in truth, become a disgraceful Mo-ck-tober campaign.

Alexi Lalas, famous for his goatie in his playing days, sporting a very full stache

Alexi Lalas, famous for his goatie in his playing days, sporting a very full stache

That one will surely live through many a team reunion.

Back to the main point of post: the missing ball. Today I went to the local park, as I often do, to get some work in. One of the more recent challenges I have made for myself, when I am training alone, involves working on my longer, aerial passes. For this, I use a wall (about 6-6.5 ft high). I will typically back up 30-40 yards and try to hit the wall while the ball is still in the air. If I hit the ball too hard, it goes over the wall and I have to jump over and go get it. If I hit it too soft and it bounces before it hits the wall, it doesn’t come back all the way and I have run and get it. When I hit it right, the ball will typically role all the way back to me easy-peasy!

This is a great way to practice something. There are direct negative consequences for mistakes and if you do it right it is easier for you, but its not easy to do it right – sounds kinda like life doesn’t it.

Today, in my infinite imperfection, I kicked the ball over not 1, but 4 times (most of the others didn’t make it to the wall in the air either). Let me add that there is a relatively busy road just behind the wall, only protected by a few rows of trees (many of which are very thorny trees).

The first time I kicked it over was easy, as it sat just on the other side of the wall. The second and third time I happened to be practicing striking 1-time volleys out of the air, which is a classic high-risk vs. high-reward situation. If you manage to score a one touch volley, you feel like the man, you look like the man, and people will treat you like the man (at least for a bit)! If you shank it, you feel stupid, you look stupid and people treat you like your stupid (for a while). So, when I shanked these two over the wall they also cleared the trees. So, I had to push my way through the thorny trees and out on to the busy road, looking and feeling stupid, to retrieve my ball.

The last time I kicked it over, it only just cleared the wall, hit some branches right behind the wall, and appeared to drop straight down. I ran over immediately to scale the wall AGAIN. I got to the top of the wall and looked over…the ball was nowhere to be seen. I jumped down into the thorny trees and began crawl-walking around looking for it. Nothing. I went out to the road. Nothing. I crossed the busy road looking stupid to see if it had somehow gotten across (highly unlikely considered the pace I kicked it at). Nothing. The road was gradually sloping downhill and the ball could have gotten caught in the culvert and started rolling away so I walked down a little ways…looking stupid. Nothing. I went back and looking up into the trees in case it was stuck in them somewhere. Nothing!

Note: this was a bright neon yellow ball – on my receipt it is classified “Hi-Vis.”!

Seriously, how do you miss this!!!!!

Seriously, how do you miss this!!!!!

NOTHING, NOTHING, NOTHING!!!!!!!!

I sat there scratching my head for a bit and came to the only rational conclusion I could. It grew legs and ran off.

Now, if you remember, I wrote about losing another ball a while back at the same place. It’s bizarre. However, this isn’t just my second ball since I’ve been here. It’s my fourth (4TH). Two have mysteriously disappeared and two have been victims of death by puncture from the above described thorny trees. Moral of the story…don’t kick a ball over the wall into the thorny trees. Sigh! The Sports Direct store in Leeds is loving it.

In other news, my soccer life has continued to improve, while my love life has continued nowhere. I continue to train, here and there, with about as many teams as balls I’ve lost. Funnily enough, I have gotten to play a little in a few games with Albion Sports yet again. They have been doing well and sit 2nd in their league. In any case, they needed players for a few games again this week and I was happy to oblige.

We lost one of the games and won the other. I only played briefly in both and I was essentially given permission to run around as much as I wanted as long as I made sure they didn’t score. They didn’t! This leads to today’s seanostat: My team has never been scored on while I’m on the field in England! Boom! I hear Man Utd is having defensive difficulties…SIR ALEX!?!?

The Home of Rossington Main.

The Home of Rossington Main.

Overall, training has been good and it was nice to get into games, even if just for a few moments. I continue to work hard and wait for a breakthrough.

Special shout out to my youngest brother Desmond who turns a whopping 2 tomorrow. He’s always got bruises on his face from falling down head first…what an inspiration! Love him.

I wish you all a blessed and reflective advent!

Until next time Peace out.

Seano

The drawing board

I know I’ve slowed down a bit in terms of updates and information and the truth is that this reflects the activity which has been going on. Plus, I only promised about 1 article a week and it’s only been a week yesterday…so stop whining!!!

The purpose of this post is to reassure you that I am still alive and well, while giving you an idea of what in the world (more like what in the England) I am doing.  The past week or so has seen me go back to the drawing board.

The games I was playing with Albion have dried up a bit. Albion had some players return who had been out in the recent weeks for various reasons. I spoke with the manager and he said that, for loyalties sake, he would be playing them over me and so, unless there was a significant chance that I was going to be getting serious game-time, he would not bother bringing me to games. Usually they would only bring 3 subs for away games in an effort to minimize travel costs and wages (Yes, we would get payed a little per game). So, despite the various reasons for not playing, I appreciated that the manager was straightforward with me and if the proper opportunity presents itself I could play scattered games with them again.

I know this isn’t a perfect comparison, but I feel like the situation is similar Rio Ferdinand being snubbed by England in recent months. Among other reasons, including the purpose of “looking to the future”, the England manager Roy Hodgson says that he is not choosing Ferdinand because a player of his experience should always be one of the first in the starting 11. Since he could not assure him of that, he had decided not to add him to the squad. You can read a little more about it here.

It’s cause he’s a grumpy old man!

Now of course, there is a more than slight difference between getting called up to a national team and playing in a non-league football team. I am not comparing myself to Rio Ferdinand either…I’m far better looking 😉 . Yet, there also some similarities in the situation. I was assured by the manager that it had nothing to do with my ability as a player and that I was a great guy. I was told that it wouldn’t make sense to bring me along to sit on the bench, just like Ferdinand. It was nice of him to reassure me of these things, even if I was already confident of them. However, just as is the case with Ferdinand and England, you never really know the real issues and reasons behind decisions.

Speculation aside, I think the situation with Albion was a blessing in disguise. It has forced me re-align my goals and refresh my focus. I came over to play professional football, and I need to do much more work to get there. Obviously, the loss of playing games consistently is irreplaceable, but there are positives.

So, as I say, I have gone back to the drawing board. What exactly does that mean?

First of all, I am continuing to train hard on my own. Above all, I make sure that I get touches on the ball. I attempt to spend at least 45-60 minutes a day with the ball at my feet. A normal session will involve quite a bit of juggling, or as they say here “Keepy-uppy”. I don’t just juggle as many times as I can, rather, I make little challenges for myself. For instance, I will do high/low intervals. This means every few juggles (I usually do every 3 or every 5) I hit the ball up in the air (12-15 ft. usually) and then bring it back under control with the designated number of touches before knocking it back up again. So, for a three juggle interval, it would sound something like “tap-tap-kick…tap-tap-kick…and so on”.

I also do some passing exercises against a nearby wall. I try to mix it up with my passing. For instance, I will knock 50 1-touch passes off the wall switching between left and right foot. I also do variations of 2-touch passing off the wall. For one set, I might control and pass with the same foot; while in another set, I might use my control touch to take the ball across my body before passing it back with the opposite foot. To mix it up even more, I might only control or pass with a specified part of the foot (like the outside). I sometimes also back up off the wall a bit (maybe only 15-20 yards) and try to work on striking a ball with more power. But, when I hit one a bit too high and it nicked the top of the wall and  bounced over the trees into the road behind, I decided to refrain from that for the most part – no I never found the ball, had to get a new one. Grrr

I also found a great wall to juggle against in the neighborhood because its made out of big stones and is anything but smooth. So, I’m never quite sure how it will bounce back and so it tests my reactions well. I will usually either do 1-touch or 2-touch off the wall.

The other important thing I try to do is fitness with the ball. This usually just consists of various sprints with the ball. I sometimes pass off the wall, receive the ball and then sprint 10-15 yards with it. This also helps my first touch. You get very creative overall when you spend enough time kicking a ball around by yourself.

I do other fitness on my own as well. I’ll usually run further distances in the morning, usually 3-5 miles. Aside from just simply running at a normal pace, I also like to do intervals; which is basically running hard for a period (about 30-60 seconds), then taking it easy for the next period. Intervals are good because they mimic game fitness more closely. I’m sure some of this might seem obvious to some people and if so, sorry to bore you with the details. The point is, though, that I am putting in hard work and am doing my best to be ready when the opportunity presents itself.

The other side of the story, of course, is trying to get that opportunity to present itself. I’ve been back to the drawing board even more so in this sense. I feel like I am investigating a crime, since I have to follow so many leads.

Person: “This person said that person said that this person was someone who did this with this team, which could help you.”

Me: “Oh, great! So…who is this?”

No idea?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely appreciative of any help anyone can give me and has given me. I can’t say that enough! However, it’s still a tough process. I’m re-sending emails, calling whoever I can and getting advice from whoever will give it. This has led to some possibilities overall. I spoke with a contact, who knows some people in the Newcastle area and might be able to get me a trial with some teams, if they are looking for players. I have also trained a few times with a good team in the 6th division, but they have a full squad already. It’s also frustrating because most teams below the 5th level are only part time, so they don’t train often, especially when they are playing 2 games a week. There are other contacts who I have been trying to connect with who may give me helpful information and/or provide me with some valuable training/playing opportunities. I just keep knocking on doors.

Team training and exposure, are the two biggest things I need right now. I am still motivated, still focused, and still confident, despite any setbacks. This is the hard part, but it is what will make the reward even more satisfying, God willing! As always, I’ll keep you posted on events in the future!

Until then, don’t be afraid to dive in head first!

God Bless,

Seano

Training

It’s a little backwards. Joining a team and then playing games immediately, without any team training sessions. Like taking the test before doing the homework. I always hated those classes where the teacher made you take a test at the beginning of the semester/year “to see how knowledgeable you were on the subject” – often read: “to see how much of an ignoramus you were”. Ok, I admit, my analogy is slightly faulty. There is one pretty significant difference here. If you are given a test before a class, you are expected to fail. On the other hand, if you are given a game before a training session and you fail then you may have lost your chance to get into the training session. As a trialist, you are expected to know your stuff. Imagine if classes were like that…I wouldn’t have made it through home-schooling.

Me taking the pre-class test!

Let me be clear here, games are what players love the most. However, training plays a key role in success, which leads to greater enjoyment of games. Preparation is an important factor, both on a team level and a personal level. On a personal level, I have been staying as fit as possible and as sharp as possible on my own. I think I might write an entire post on that subject alone…don’t get too excited. However, nothing I can do by myself can replicate practicing with the team I am playing on.

Let’s use another analogy. I have worked in construction for a number of years. In another life, I could see myself being an architect. Although, I’m sure the things I designed wouldn’t be called infrastructure, but rather infrailstructure. Anyway, you don’t just build a house by ordering loads of wood, piping, electrical supplies, toilets and then start hammering and screwing it all together. No, you follow a blue print that has been designed through hard work, trial and error, and maybe, if the office is a rough place, blood, sweat and tears. The blue print is the unified goal you are working towards. It is beating your biggest rival, it is winning a cup or championship. The blue print represents what you are doing and how you are doing it. The workers on the construction site; the carpenters, the plumbers, the electricians, each with different skill set resemble the players; the defenders, the midfielders, and the strikers (note: the defenders are plumbers because it’s their job to clean ***t up at the back). They all come together to build the house or to lift the cup. In construction it is called a blueprint. In a sport you can call it whatever you like, the goal, the objective – the idea is the same.

It would be done, but I had to go to training.

What does all this nonsense have to do with training? Well, training is where the blueprint is laid out, usually by the coach/manager, for everyone to see. Then as the season goes on, like the house being built, the blueprint is formed into something real, not just theoretical, not just a piece of paper. The blueprint can be tweaked from time to time if necessary. There are always unforeseen consequences; like weather, injuries, and even mistakes. We are only human. You adapt at every training session. You go back to the blueprint and see how it can be improved. It’s the search for perfection that I talked about in a previous post. The blueprint is the guide leading to perfection. Training re-aligns your goals with the blueprint. You focus on your task within the design. The less you go back to the design, the less you understand it and know its intricacies. In the end, this leaves you with a shoddy house or a shipwrecked season.

In case you didn’t guess, I had my first training session today with Albion. For an amateur team down in non-league football playing two games a week can be difficult enough for guys with other jobs and often families. It’s tough to fit in practices. However, after our cancellation in the midweek game and a by-weekend for us in the league, we wouldn’t be coming together as a team for 9 days. Alas, a training session today to review the blueprint. Re-align goals. Get everyone on the same page.

Successful? Well, yes and no. Every training session has value.

Seeing a Saturday afternoon off in the schedule at this point in the season is like getting a free trip to the Bahamas…too good to be true! Contrary to prior belief, this was actually the case. So, many of the players had made plans in advance of the day. Needless to say, there was not a full turnout to the last minute training session. We ended up with 10 players and the manager and the coach were appropriately frustrated. As was I, considering I was hoping for a chance to gel a little bit with all my teammates. It is easier to gel with players in training because it is more of a learning environment. You can stop, ask questions, and get a better overall idea of how they are all trying to play the game. As I said at first, the training is the homework. The game is the test – you don’t learn as well in a test.

Having said that, training with 10 people is far better than training with 1 – my M.O. the past few weeks. After all, it’s a team game. We ended up making the best of it, as is best to do in these cases. Most of the session was made up of variations of a possession game focused on moving the ball from one side to the other. We also focused on the defensive side of things, where we focused on staying tight and compact, so that the ball could not be played through us. I won’t bore you with anymore details, but I will say I am in desperate need of practicing my distance game. For me this includes any balls hit over 30 yards, with a special highlight on crossing and shooting (both of which are hard to do on your own!).

As always, the important thing is that I got to play! Blessed.

That’s that!

PS. On further thought, I decided that forwards and midfielders both have qualifications as plumbers. The strikers must create openings in clogged up defenses and midfielders have to keep the game flowing. Who woulda thunk, footballers are all just plumbers in disguise.

Don’t be afraid to dive in head first (unless its into the sewage)

Seano