Friday, March 21, 2014

Seasons Endings

Since my arrival to Sweden, I have been given the unique opportunity to assist Daniel as a volunteer coach with Ljungby Volleyboll Klubb in the second-half of their season, where they would play in the Vårtvåan South-West. The bottom two teams would move down to Division 2, and the top four teams would remain in Division I. The first-half of the season, Ljungby struggled to compete against their Division 1 South opponents, taking only two sets of their eight total matches.

Initially, progress was slow, but steady, and as the weeks rolled on, the athletes' improvements became more and more evident to the few fans we had. Practices often started sluggish, but by increasing the demands and pace of the drills, we were able to get a lot accomplished. The girls' skills and expectations of themselves increased every month as well. Initially, the team was satisfied with a single-set victory, which they had achieved two additional times in January's matches against VK Veddige (16-25, 25-17, 9-25, 20-25) and Eneryda Nsf (19-25, 19-25, 25-21, 18-25). By February, winning one set was no longer enough. After 5 weeks of focused practices and dedication, they were able to secure their first 5-set match, falling to Tuve VK 21-25, 25-23, 25-23, 19-25, 16-18. Despite the loss, the girls, parents, and club were rejuvenated, feeling as though their commitment to the team had begun to pay off. It was big step in the right direction, but still, we wanted more.

One month later, Ljungby faced Eneryda Nsf on their home court, and pulled off their first and only win of the season: 25-21, 10-25, 25-15, 25-14. This match also marked the first time Ljungby had been victorious in the first set of a match this year. Mentally, the girls had overcome the fears, doubts, and worries they had been plagued with since the club's decision to have this former U17 team as the new LVBK A-team competing in Division I. They initially met this challenge with hesitation and uncertainty, but with their newfound success, their confidence was growing. It was a turning point in the season.

Although we qualified down to Division 2 for the next season in a tough 4-set loss against Tuve (26-24, 26-28, 23-25, 13-25), Ljungby continued to impress spectators and opponents alike. Our final match was against nearby rival Gislaved. Again, we experienced another nail-biting 5-set match: 20-25, 25-21, 25-19, 21-25, 12-15. With loss comes disappointment, yet the players were happy with all they had accomplished in this season. Each player had stepped up to the task in front of them, and left all they had on the court. It is a great day in athletics to see such a vast improvement in this short amount of time. I am so glad to have had this opportunity to help make a difference in this team. I cannot have imagined a better and more inspiring group of athletes to coach. Each day coming to the gym, they were eager and willing to learn. They challenged me to create technical but fun drills. I cannot express my thanks to the club for welcoming me back into their organization. I hope that I can continue to give back to the sport of volleyball. Until next season...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

How-To: Look Like a Swede

Tall. Slender body. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Flawless skin. High cheek bones. That is the image that many have when they picture a Swede. Don't get me wrong, the media has provided many prime candidates to prove this true: Malin Åkerman of Couples Retreat, Alexander Skarsgård of True Blood, musician/DJ Avicii, and Tiger Woods' ex-wife Elin Nordegren.
Malin Åkerman
Alexander Skarsgård
Elin Nordegren
Take, for example, this photo-collage of when I played in Sweden during the 2011-2012 season. All blondes with blue-eyes...

Pictured left to right: Emma and Sofie, me and Jo (both American), Malin, and Lisa.
Although many of the Swedes I have met DO, in fact, have eyes and hair on the lighter side, blonde hair and blue eyes are not a Swedish guarantee. Despite having a population of 9.64 million people, there are a vast amount of foreign-born immigrants, which causes a mixture of physical traits. Sweden does not base demographics on ethnicity, thus making exact numbers difficult, however national backgrounds are recorded and show that 14% of Swedish residents are foreign-born. The top ten foreign-born groups hail from:

  1. Finland
  2. Iraq
  3. Poland
  4. Former Yugoslavia
  5. Iran
  6. Bosnia and Herzegovinia
  7. Germany
  8. Turkey
  9. Denmark
  10. Somalia
Such influx of immigrants has been a major source of population growth and cultural diversity throughout Swedish history. 

To maintain the Swedish figure, many adhere to their native "Nordic diet" in which they consume local, seasonal vegetables, fatty fish (rich in Omega 3's) and often participate in regular exercise. Genetics will play a strong role is your body-type, and as in any first-world country, abundant food options can allow for consumers to fall victim of over-eating. Depending which side of the food-spectrum you choose to participate, your body shape will likely follow.

I have also noticed that Sweden makes staying active an easy part of everyday life, thus promoting the Swedish slender figure. Most cities and towns have bike and walking paths that makes getting around safe and easy for all ages. People are much more likely to ride their bike to and from school or work than they are to drive; not only giving them an outdoor exercise, but also keeping down on the overall pollution. Many people will also participate in some sport, hiking/skiing, or just going to the gym.
Town map of Ljungby
Of course, as the seasons change, so do the activities in which the locals will participate. In the summer, you can find Swedes hanging out near any body of water they can find, enjoying barbecues, tanning, golfing, beach volleyball, and soccer. As winter approaches, people turn to skiing, hiking, and hockey. Whatever the weather, Swedes will find some way to get outdoors, even if for a short time.