And so it was. New team. New coach. New league. New city. New country. New language. But no matter what changes, the one constant is volleyball.
My new team is Sodertelge VolleyBoll Club. Located in the small town of 'Södertälje' (or Soda for short), which has population of around 100, 000. I don't know why the town had a 'j' in it but the team has a 'g' in it. I guess it's one of those weird Swedish things. But I'm only a 45 minute train ride from downtown Stockholm which is beautiful, also doubling up as the capital and biggest city in Sweden.
I'm about to tick over to my first month now here, and I'm very happy with the situation I've landed in. The guys on the team and coaching staff are motivated. Practices have been good so far, but also frustrating. Every part of you wants to hit the ground running but in reality it's hard. It takes time to get adjusted, both to how things will work on the court and off the court. The connection with the hitters is coming along, not as fast as I'd like but it never is.
We've done a lot of pre-season a work. I landed in Sweden on a Monday. And that Friday night we headed to a holiday house near a lake for a weekend getaway with the team. Especially early on it's important to do some team bonding. We even split up into groups and tackled a series 'escape rooms'. The best way to describe these are essentially riddles (yes in Swedish) in a room with a bunch of obstacles and weird ropes and other fun playground equipment to climb. Obviously my group had the most points however someone lost our bit of paper, then amazingly the team who tallied the points won. It was largely controversial, and will remain so.
We also participated in an age old activity I haven't done much in the last few years : we ran. Altogether around 5km, which any volleyballer knows is torture. Team rules got discussed. It's now official that anytime someone serves under the net at practice anytime during the season, they have to bake the whole team a cake. There's only been one culprit so far so thanks very much for your delicious treats Anton.
My Svenska (the Swedish word for Swedish funnily enough) is coming along pretty good. I can count to 10, and order in most cafés what I want, even if I have to guess what some ingredients are. Avoiding horse meat is probably my only real mission right now. Just for some cultural info I have mastered possibly the most important word in the Swedish language: fika. This is the Swedish word to 'have a cup of coffee with someone', essentially a more social, caffeinated and less carcinogenic version of a 'smoko'. At any stage of the working day, it is perfectly acceptable to stop your job, take a 'fika' to unwind then head back to work. I love this concept except for one important fact for anyone who ever wants to live in Sweden: for a country who prides itself on having a cup of coffee to socialise and enjoy life, the beverage they serve up for 'coffee' is disgusting. I've been trying to find coffee that doesn't taste like cat piss. So far I've found a hipster cafe in Stockholm that charges $7 AUD for a Swedish version of a 'flat white' (a concept that's hard to find at most cafés) that tastes about the same quality as a $1 coffee from 7-11. I hope the coffee situation will improve but I'm doubtful; I went 8 months in The Netherlands without a good coffee and it's looking like nothing is changing anytime soon.
Aside from that life is pretty relaxed. Everyone from the club has been awesome in helping me get settled. The team practices 4 evenings per week which leaves a lot of free time. With the Fall TV season starting the US, I'll definitely be able to keep up to date with Homeland, Louie etc, while at some stage re-watch The Office.
The first league match is on October 4th. There are somewhere between 18-24 regular season matches that finished in mid-March when playoffs start. So games will come fast early on, so right now the focus is ironing out some kinks, and come October get out there and to paraphrase the great Rasheed Wallace 'play hard'.
Next post I'll hopefully be able to write about my planned trip to ikea, the ABBA museum (yes they have an ABBA museum) and some reviews on the qualities of meatballs.
My closing thought is this: last November Stockholm had less than 5 hours of sunlight for the whole month. So next time you look up and see the sun, please think of me.