Daily Dose

In Life & Travel, Soccer by Jackie Cruz

Many players go abroad only to find out professional soccer is not at all what they expected. 8 hours of traveling for away games and training in 30-degree weather is not something agents explain or players entail right off the bat. Many other factors come into the equation – culture, nutrition, being alone when injured or homesickness.

I want to show players, coaches and family realistic expectations and the level of will you need to succeed. Here is a small glimpse into the life, the routine and the dream of playing in Germany.

For almost every club in mainland Europe, there are 2 preseasons – summer and winter. Our winter preseason started the 1st week in January and we trained twice a day for 4 days. The other days we trained once a day with at least 1 weekly friendly match. It is usually snowing or below 28 degrees outside, so many (if not all) clubs travel to warmer locations during this time. This year, my club traveled to Prague for a couple days for a test game. In the past, I have been to Mallorca, Spain, for training camp, and this past January, my boyfriend’s club traveled to Antalya, Turkey for a 1-week camp.

Once point games start, we have 6-7 trainings Tuesday through Saturday. It is grueling at times, but worth it when you see all the progress made.

Being in the Bundesliga is great, but it is my first year since I came up from the 2nd Division, so I have to work harder to bridge the talent gap. Tuesday mornings are for my individual sprints. I use my 5 kilogram weight vest to sprint 30 to 60 meters in various techniques up a steep hill in the city park. When I need more technical training, I call a teammate to do extra skill work on the field before training. Today’s team training in the afternoon is to get our legs going again from the day off.

Wednesdays start with weight training. Having weights at 6:15 am at SJSU was hard, so i am thankful we start at 8:00 am here in Jena. Weight training is a little different than it is in the states, especially if you have gone through a NCAA Division 1 programs. Some variations of American football workouts for speed and power are utilized as well, like most Division 1 athletes are used to. However, for the most part, in Germany more emphasis is on repeating the same effective exercises for best results.

To be perfectly honest, USV Jena is the 1st German club where I have regular, weekly strength training. My other clubs (not in the 1st division) did not put any value on the body’s physical condition. So, I did a bi-weekly weight program for the past few years on my own.

Wednesday afternoon is a mentally and physically harder training. It combines intricate passing patterns with intense, small-sided games. Usually training is on the grass fields in our main facility, but October through February we have to train on the turf fields belonging to FC Carl Zeiss Jena (the 4th division men’s team). Unfortunately, my body is definitely feeling more aches and pains from switching between different surfaces at 29 years old.

Since we have training sometimes at 8am on Thursdays, it is hard to end training at 8pm the night before and have enough time for recovery and regeneration. A great solution I have found is BCAA and 100% natural whey protein. I tried many protein mixes, including an organic, vegan protein powder, but still had an empty feeling while training. Now, I use this powder from My Supps.

Eventually, I will be switching to the Isagenix Isapro Whey Protein mix. It is vegetarian, gluten free and made from grass fed cows with no extra hormones or antibiotics. At $46.95 every 20 days, it is a bit steep in price, but my body will thank me for it after. Making smart purchases and spending a few more dollars on organic, natural or quality items should be a no-brainer. It means less trips to the doctor later and cheaper medical bills!

The end of the week brings a decrease in performance intensity. It is crucial to have this slight trough in training in order to recover for the game on Sundays. Thursday and Friday trainings are more concentrated and tactical, with a lot of practice on set pieces and pressing.

Every other Saturday comes with an 8:30 am departure to the rival city. Travel times range from 4 to 8 hours with breaks from the bus driver (in Germany they are obligated to stop every 2 hours). The driving breaks are good to use the bathroom or buy some forgotten water or snacks. The gas stations in Germany are not like the U.S. – they are clean (you have to pay 0.70 to use the restroom) and full of good food assortments. My favorite are the Marché restaurants that have fresh juices and natural food.

Once we arrive, we have a light training in the late afternoon and enjoy a scrumptious dinner together. Team meetings and sports trainer appointments are until around 9:00pm.

Quick List: What to bring when traveling:
⋅ Neck pillow
⋅ Reading material (school material, Kindle, magazines)
⋅ Extra phone charger (find one on Amazon or get this one from your best friend like me!)
⋅ Small, healthy snacks (pasta, fruit)
⋅ At least 1 liter of water

Below you can see a map of the 1st division teams, followed by the 2nd division teams. Bremen to Munich takes about 6.5 hours by car and Essen to Potsdam takes around 4.5 hours. So, it is necessary to drive the day before.

On game days, we have breakfast and lunch together before the game. We have a bit of downtime, but everyone uses it to stay relaxed and keep their muscles loose before the game. Arriving a little less than 2 hours before kickoff, we inspect the field, which is almost always in pristine condition. We change into our jerseys, have an intensive, but motivational group meeting and start to prepare our minds and bodies for the challenge ahead.

Monday is recovery day. Many athletes forget to recover just as many hours as they trained or played. I usually drink a lot of tea this day – my favorites are the Numi Tea White Rose, David Rio Power Chai and the Encha Matcha assortments.

Many people cannot drink tea that tastes like a Rose flower, but it reminds me of simply being in a meadow on top of a small hill filled with willow trees. I can feel a slight breeze hitting my cheeks and smell the faint rose essence blowing in the wind. The flavor brings peace to my days and puts me in a good place.

Besides the euphoric feelings mentioned above, tea is a great way to stay hydrated (green and black teas have the most caffeine). Tea also provides major health benefits, such as “[protection] against heart disease, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer” (Dr. Oz).

Specifically, matcha tea (dried then ground green tea leaves) not only has 137 times more antioxidants than regular green tea (also more than goji, blueberries and acai berries), but also detoxes, improves mental concentration, boosts energy, improves metabolism, is a rich source of vitamins and prevents diseases (Matcha Source).

After our day off, the week starts all over again and the upcoming trainings are to prepare for the new opponent on the weekend.

It is a hard life to push your body to perform at maximum performance every day. However, it is also a great life. If you stay a true professional player on and off the field, much success will come your way!