So I went to the UEFA B Licence in Dublin June. I haven’t really talked much about it, namely cause it was smack dab in the middle of a crazy time for me, but it was one of the best and most memorable weeks of my life.
First of all, I was the only female in a crew of 40 male fellow UEFA B seekers, and 6 male instructors. Being that I haven’t been on the Bachelorette before, this was an entirely new experience for me, and I was completely intimidated at first (After walking into the lobby of men directly off my red-eye, a direct quote to myself was, “Ciara why the hell do you put yourself into these situations.”)
As is the case with many a risk, in the end it was the best thing I have ever done. I just can’t say enough about what quality, supportive, funny, hard-working people from around the world that I had the privilege of being around that week, and I added to my collection of very special lifelong friends.
I was challenged, I learned more about the game, I was inspired by the passion for the game around me, and in the end, a very surprising side-effect of the week-long course happened: I felt the fire to pursue playing at the top level again.
That being said, one of the great things about the week was that we all had to play while the others in the group coached us. We got underway on the field the first afternoon that we started the course, having had little chance to meet and talk to anyone, let alone have any idea names or backgrounds. We were split into three groups and began to play. I was paired with a center back named Mile and I was pretty impressed with his communication as we told each other to step, drop, mark etc, and how collected he was in possession.
Later that afternoon as we ate our one large meatball (a food item that will also forever remind me of that week), one of the guys that I was sitting with said, “hey, did you know that there are 4 guys from the EPL in our course.” I asked who, and they said, this guy, this guy, this guy, and Mile. I started laughing and said to my new friend, “oh that’s super funny, I played centre back with Mile this afternoon and I thought he was pretty good.”
My new friend looked at me with a smile, and said “Pretty good, Ciara? He’s the captain and MVP of his EPL club and has played like 40 times and at the World Cup for his country.” And that promptly ended any hope of a future career for me as a talent scout.
But in seriousness, I’ve never been around male players of that calibre, on or off the field, and as we all were in close quarters for the course of 6 days with 14 hour days on the field and in the classroom and with a lot of down time on sidelines to chat, it was a really eye-opening experience. The first was learning about what life in the EPL is like, and finding out that a lot of things that frustrated me that I just put down to women’s soccer were the same on the men’s side.
I guess human nature transcends gender at times.
But secondly for whatever reason, the way Mile carried himself on and off the field, really stuck with me, and has inspired me as I made the decision to pursue playing again that week. I did so, because I felt that physically I still had it in me, and mentally there was a part of me that was missing that I felt that if I could conquer I could reach an even higher level as a player and that would make me a better person.
Mile was quiet and reserved, but his presence commanded respect. There was a quality, consistency and a confidence to the way he handled himself both off the field and on, that made him standout, not only on the field obviously as an EPL player, but in the classroom sessions as well. At one point one of the other guys in the course ripped on a his teammate for his national team, within earshot of Mile and he quickly and authoritatively called the guy out and stood up for his friend. Since the course, I’ve watched some of his EPL games and even caught a game with his national team, and despite his EPL team having a rough start of the season, he just again always seem to just have a calm, consistent presence, and was a valuable person on the field. Not surprisingly, his team has turned it around.
When I decided to play again, and having the advantage of a lot of time away from an organized environment, I had a chance to evaluate the things that I could improve upon as a player as I took one last go at playing at the top level.
For me, the biggest thing that I need to work on as a player and a person is my consistency. I’m not even talking consistency of my play, because it is connected with my emotional state.
For anyone that knows me personally or has read my blogs, you know the passion and feisty Irish blood that permeates my personality. This has been very advantageous in the sense that it has given me the fight to overcome a lot of situations, but as I have gotten older, I have recognized how this part of my personality, if left to run wild has other side effects, like the reflection of my injuries usually coinciding with being emotionally upset or off-kilter.
Whether its my perception of him or reality, my impression of Mile was that it didn’t matter the situation, he was calm, confident and consistent. And it’s funny now but when I find myself as a person getting worked up or upset over something that I usually have no control over, or on the field getting frustrated, I take that perception of Mile and I try and channel the vision of it, into being the person and player that I want to be. One that doesn’t waste energy on things that aren’t positive, and that is calm and collected in the storm of life around me. The tiger that sits in its cage focused on a task and doesn’t react and eventually doesn’t notice people poking him repeatedly with sticks and taunts until they just fade away.
And it’s taught me a valuable lesson and one that I’d recommend for anyone that is trying to become better at anything; try and find the best people in your field and attempt to be around them, see what they do, how they act, and what makes them good at what they do. And then get a vision of it in your head. And those times that you don’t seem to be able to be the person or player that you want to be, channel your icon, that person that you want to be, and like a little 5 year old playing dress up, emulate them. Be them, until you wake up one day and that is who you are.
And another lesson that the UEFA B taught me (besides reinforcing the benefits of the ‘ol get out of your comfort zone): you may go into something thinking you’re gonna get something out of it (for me a coaching license) but instead be given something completely different (the desire to reach my potential as a player by channeling the EPL captain that came across my path).
And that my friends, is the beauty of life.
*Sidenote, I recently made my return to the Irish team for the first time since 2011, playing with the team against the Basque in Spain, May 2014