Youth Soccer in Sweden Part 2
My Favorite Place
By Frida Farstad Eriksson
This is the second in a three-part-series
At the time I left my team with the boys and started in AIK, I didn’t think about that this was an elite club. I had no understanding of the everyday meaning of that concept at my level. It was painful to leave my best friends, but I somehow knew I had to pay the price. If I wanted to take a shot at developing my full potential as a soccer player, I had to join a girls’ team. The only club I could imagine to switch to was the club I was a fan of, AIK. And it was a lucky move at the right time. I have seen and understood this as time has passed.
Joining the girls’ 95 in AIK, I was happy. I found a team where I felt welcome and at home. I loved my new team, the girls, and the coaches. I had never felt comfortable with girls before, but here we had the soccer in common. It was a great team spirit and we had lots of fun, and I developed. Even if I was not aware when I made the switch I have found later, I came right into a club where I would have the possibility to develop maximum if I worked hard.
Here in Sweden the sports are not part of school. Of course we have sports in school as part of the curriculum, and I go in a special class with Sports as a major. However, organized sports are run by nonprofit clubs. Every small town might have a small sports club, and it is all run by volunteer workers. The coaches are usually parents, and they do it all for free. Also, most have no formal training, other than maybe that they played or did the sports themselves as younger. The members and the parents have to work and pay to run all the activities. So each club can administrate their own tournaments as a means of getting income for instance. Income can come from fees charged to participate and also from sales of food and lottery during the tournament.
When I played with the boys, all my coaches were untrained dads. When I started with the girls in AIK, it was still untrained dads since the team was still playing 7-a-side. But in AIK, there is from 11-a-side level always a head coach for each team who is not a parent, who is formally trained and even paid by the club. This is to secure a certain standard and also prevent special treatment of players because of family relations. To secure all equal opportunity to earn a place on the team. And the coaches all have contracts only for one year, so they have to perform to continue. Even the assistant coaches who can still be parents have a one-year at a time contract even though they are volunteers.
In November 2007, we started preparing for playing 11-a-side and for the first time I got a trained coach. The coming year we would play in the St.Erik’s Cup and compete about two things: Getting a place in the Elite Group of St. Erik’s Cup year 2009 and also taking a place in the playoffs. It was a great pressure to achieve the results to place us in the Elite Group, but we succeeded. We became number one in our group and also got to continue in the playoffs. We lost the 1/8 final that year, however we continued practicing and practicing.
Here in Stockholm, we practice outside all year round. Snow or sunshine, as long as the field is playable and the temperature above minus 10 degrees Celsius, we practice outside. And we were getting better and better. We won all our indoor tournaments, both five-a-side and 9-a-side and we also won Piteå Summer Games, a large International Summer Tournament in the North of Sweden. We did not win Gothia Cup, the largest international soccer tournament in the world played here in Gothenburg, Sweden, but got to playoffs and all the way to the 1/4 final. On the other hand in October that year my team won the whole St. Erik’s Cup. What a joy and happiness!
When I started with the girls, we were 14 in number. By the time we won St. Erik’s Cup we were 30 girls. Not all was up to the level of being considered Elite players. But we were still one team. And our head coach and the assistant coaches were exceptional in the sense that every girl on the team felt valued no matter how the ranking as a soccer player was. It was a distinct difference in the treatment of the person and the player and this was a key to the happy and good spirit of our team. No one felt left out, even when sitting on the bench.
Therefore it was really a hard time when after winning the St. Erik’s Cup, the team was split. This is life in an Elite Club. At this level, some players would be placed in an Elite Team and some would have to play in a normal team. Some might be placed in a special development team. So my team was split and the girls placed into different teams. I was placed in the Elite Team, girls born 95. And I was in this team for six months before I was placed in AIK’s Development Team for girls. This team consists of players of different ages from 15-17 years old. I was happy but very nervous to be moved to this team because I knew it would boost my development, and it has. Still it was scary to be moved from a team where I was one of the best to another where I feared I might not be able to take a place on the team.
I have now played with that team for one season. We have won all of St. Erik’s Cup again, this year in the girls 16-year level. The team that wins that series also gets to play in the Swedish Championship playoffs arranged by the Swedish Soccer Association. The playoffs are between winners of the series in all other Districts in Sweden. And the winner becomes Swedish Champion. My team won the title, 2010. We also won the Stockholm Championship Junior earlier this year.
Another exiting series we played this year was Svenska Spel F17. It is a National series arranged by an Association for Ladies Soccer and the Swedish Soccer Association. In this series we met teams from all over Sweden. Only teams from clubs that have teams in “Allsvenskan or the First Division” are allowed to participate. Allsvenskan is the highest division here in Sweden. The popular name of Svenska Spel F17 is “Flickallsvenskan” which means “Allsvenskan for Girls”. This series has existed for boys for many years, but it is only the second year for girls. And it is a great opportunity for girls to continue playing soccer at their own level instead of having to start in a ladies team or maybe not find a team at all if you are not good enough to make the ladies team and will have to quit instead maybe. It is a great opportunity for girl soccer players to be able to continue developing as soccer players.
It is a series for girls 17 years (and down if you can take a place in the team) with the exception you can have 5 older players per game (4 + 1 goalkeeper overage). The four best teams go to playoffs and my team did this year and we won the Bronze medal.
After this season, my team has changed again, and I am now in the highest level team for girls in AIK, called “Damjuniorerna”, it means “Ladies Junior’s”. So it is the highest under the Ladies Team.
Playing in an Elite Club requires 100 percent commitment to the sport. Since I was 13, I have now practiced four days a week and with games or tournaments at least once or often twice a week. So the only thing I do is to go to school and play soccer. In my one free evening without practice I catch up on all the homework I can or do it in advance. I have trained myself to do this since I was in the fourth grade. I have always wanted to play soccer and get as good as I possibly can. And I have realized long time ago that it takes a lot of discipline to play soccer at this level. I have to be really mindful about every minute of my day to keep up with school and also be able to play soccer at Elite level. There is no time for anything else. Also I have to be mindful about my eating and sleeping habits and so on every day of the week.
In AIK, there are goals set for the development of an individual player as a whole. So in addition to practice and games, we also have theoretical training sessions mandatory for all about nutrition, health, first aid, drugs and alcohol, and even mental training. There is also a program run in all the youth teams about values, called ”AIK-style”. This aims to build a foundation of values in each player, not only for soccer, but for life.
The sport costs a lot, so in addition to the practices and games we work a lot to get money to finance our soccer activities. In my team we made it our business idea to offer face painting for children. So we would be hired for events at shopping malls or sports events or cultural events, painting kids’ faces like lions, tigers, butterflies, vampires, whatever they would like. It was free for them and the organizers paid us. We had fun doing the work and it made it possible for us to make money going to tournaments and training camps. We even sold stuff like Christmas flowers, socks and the like to raise funds. Up to this level I am now, we have to pay everything ourselves.
We also work a lot as volunteers for our club. Even though AIK is an Elite Club, the activities are run mostly by volunteers. Only a few in a large club like AIK are employed. Therefore all the youth teams, players, and parents have to work for the club, to make it function. This also takes a lot of time, so practically the “whole life” is the club.