Youth Soccer in Sweden Part 3

“Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any one thing.”  Abraham Lincoln

I have a dream

By Frida Farstad Eriksson

I have a dream to one day play professionally and also play on the national team. I know it is a lot of hard work to get there and only the best can make it. Some might have more talent than me and can seemingly get there easier, but I believe in the hard work day by day to get me there some day.

I do realize I need an education no matter my passion for soccer. Even the best can only play soccer for a short period of life and few women can even make it a living during that period.  Here in Sweden the women who play in Allsvenskan all have to work to make a living, in addition to playing soccer. Since the sports are not part of the school, it is quite hard to combine the two. Practices are in late evenings and it might be far to travel every day for practice in an elite club. So combining school and soccer is tough and gets tougher the higher the education. For myself, it takes me one hour to get to practice from my home one way. And then after practice I have to go back home.  Next year I will be starting secondary school and it will be even more work in school.

The benefit with AIK as a club as well is that they work with some secondary schools with a soccer program at elite level. This means that if you get into that program, you can also practice during school hours in addition to the team practice. And from 2011 there is a completely new Secondary School Program here in Sweden called Elite Sports Gymnasium. Certain schools are certified to run the program in cooperation with the District Associations. So it means that in addition to the academic program that will give university qualifications, you can also take a major in your sport. A National Elite Soccer Program is established under the Swedish Soccer Association’s Accreditation. There is a very limited number of places in this program, and it will be the District Associations who decide who qualifies as an Elite sportsman/woman and who gets the places in the accredited schools. So first you have to apply to qualify as an Elite Sports man/woman and then you apply to be accepted at your choice of school. There are also a percentage 70/30 boys/girls for the limited number of places and it is including all sports like hockey, basket, skiing, soccer and so on. This percentage is set as it reflects the reality of who’s active in sports. So in the end there are few soccer places and even fewer places for girls.

AIK has run a soccer program with “Solna Gymnasium”, close to my home arena for some years and the school and AIK has been certified as one of the schools and clubs to run this new national program. And I am applying for it. The new thing with this program here in Sweden is also that soccer is now looked upon as a profession and the training as education for a profession. I feel very lucky that this is happening now when it is time for me to apply for secondary school.

If I get into this program it means I will be able to combine both my school and soccer in a totally new way. The teachers will also assist in making it possible, and it will also make each day a bit easier to manage since the long travels from home to practice after school will not exist anymore. The trip will be made in the morning. However, I have to plan for the day in other ways, like bringing food to eat after school, before the team practice. But even the practice will be early since the school and AIK make an effort to cooperate so team practice can start close to the end of the school day, meaning all the late nights will be a memory and give more time for homework for instance.

In addition to the Clubs, there are the Soccer Associations, at the district level and the national level. These associations arrange different tournaments and also look for players for district teams and later on for national teams amongst the players in the various clubs.

The District Associations like The Stockholm Soccer Association starts looking for players for the District teams from age 14. They travel around looking at teams playing games, come to the practices and so on, and they call players to camps or training days. In 2009, they started looking around at my age group to call a District team from girls born 1995. At this time there was almost 2,000 girl soccer players in that age only here in Stockholm. There are four camps over a period of year you can be called to. The first selection was 120 players divided to four different camps and then it narrowed down until there were only 16 left, including two goalkeepers. It was a really nervous process last year because of this, a lot of pressure because we never knew when their representatives would come looking. The final 16 picked for the District Team represents Stockholm at the Elite Training Camp in the summer in a place called Halmstad in the south of Sweden. This is a one-week training camp for all the teams from all other districts. And at this camp there are also coaches from the National Soccer Association, looking for future players for the national teams.

I was called to all the camps as the number narrowed down and finally also picked for the District Team and was able to go to the Elite Training Camp this summer.  It was a very useful learning experience, and a challenge both physically and mentally. I realized even more the importance of mental training as a soccer player, if I want to make it further.

The first national teams start from age 15 for both boys and girls. And to participate in this camp is a great opportunity to be seen. But not the only opportunity, since the District Teams staff will continue to follow the players even as we get older, at least for the coming three years. So to not be picked the first year doesn’t mean you lost all chances, you can still get another one, and you can also be bypassed next round if you don’t continue to work hard to develop.

When it comes to the possibilities of maybe one day being picked for the national team, I believe it is also a benefit to already be part of and play in a club like AIK, since in the clubs that are in Allsvenskan it is also the coaches who look out for and recommend players who can be potential future players for the “Allsvenska Team” or for the National Team.

After secondary school, I have a dream of continuing my academic education and soccer career at a college in the USA. I think it is the best way to be able to get both an education and a soccer career. This combination is not possible here in Sweden. It is therefore even harder to get both a university degree and keep a soccer career going at the same time. There are those who do it, but most often you have to choose one or the other. I don’t know how this can be a reality, but in 2006 I followed my mother to the USA. I was 11 then and she was the Commencement Speaker at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn. I got a tour at the college by the head coach for the soccer team, and he told me about college soccer, how it works and what is required. I also got to meet the team. It was a great experience, and I have dreamt of being able to do this since. I know only the best gets scholarships and without scholarships it can seem impossible to study in the USA because of the costs.

A benefit with AIK as a club is that they cooperate with something called Bluechip Sports and Education here in Sweden to make it possible to go to the USA and study at a college at the same time you engage in your sport. But of course even here to get these places you have to be the very best. For boys there are some other options. Like this December there are tryouts at Råsunda, the National Arena, to pick a whole boys team to be selected to go to the USA and Minnesota through Bluechip to participate in a tournament were there will be college scouts from all over America. This opportunity is non-existent for girls yet.

Girls’ soccer is getting more and more popular to play among girls, but still there are very few except the parents who are really willing to support it the way it is needed to give equal opportunities for development for both boys and girls. Saying that I am aware I live maybe in the best city in the world when it comes to possibility to develop at top level as a female soccer player and play in the best club to get me there.

No need to go all the way to Africa to know this, just enough to go outside of Stockholm.  Still I have an experience to share from the summer of 2006 when I spent four weeks in Ghana with my mother working for a development organization called Star of Hope. I knew it is a poor country, and the kids are in need of everything. But I wanted to bring something I cherished and share with them. So I brought balls and soccer equipment to give away. I even played some soccer games there with some boys’ teams. Most of the boys had no shoes, but played barefooted. However no girls played soccer anywhere I went for a whole month all over the country. And no one believed I was a girl since I did, this in spite of my long hair.

After coming home, I got mails from Ghana that in one of the villages I played a game, they had started a girls’ soccer team and they wanted to name it after me and also their national team. So the name is “Frida Stars”, and they asked if I would be their “protector”. Since then we even helped them to get team suites and more equipment. They report to me now and then that they are developing well and winning all their games. So this makes me really happy to think about. Soccer is so much more than just a sport. You learn so much for life engaging in this sport and have so much fun doing it.