Body Language.

Friday, April 19, 2013

[THE PITCH] “And don’t underestimate the importance of body language.” –Ursula, from The Little Mermaid

In Offenbach, Germany, a 16,000 standing-room-only crowd roared so loudly in the echo-intense arena that those of us sitting inches apart on the bench could hardly converse. The 22 American and German players on the pitch stood no chance at communicating at all. Four days later, Holland’s Kyocera Stadium was filled  with an orange sea of 8,000 enthusiastic fans partaking in a spontaneous wave so strong, I seriously wondered why the Dutch had not yet abandoned the use of windmills for energy... Needless to say, my 90-minute in-game conversation with myself was completely unheard, as well as all of my other attempts at communication with my teammates: calling for the ball, setting the press, cheering…

Back at the HOH...
Jenni is here. Tyreso's newest acquisition and Spanish international finds herself between a rock and a hard place as she speaks neither Swedish nor English. So, for the time being, Meghan Klingenberg (my fellow American companion, housemate, and USWNT + Tyresö teammate, more popularly known as Kling) and I speak English and some Spanish. Vero speaks Spanish and some English and we all smile awkwardly and point a lot....trying to communicate. 

Acclaimed management consultant Peter Drucker says, "The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said." Ironically, for me, this rings louder and truer everyday as I often find the most expedient form of communicating is body language. 

Minutes before the start of the game vs. the Netherlands, Heather O’Reilley ran over to me amid the noisy stadium. She had to shout for me to hear her, making her point that much more clear. She said something to the extent of… in a stadium where we can’t hear any verbal communication, the way we carry ourselves becomes that much more important. As strikers, the rest of the team will be looking toward you throughout the game, and it’s imperative to exude energy, positivity, and good body language for the rest of the team to feed off.

I've gotten used to reading players' body language and waiting for their cues on the field. In fact, forwards spend the whole game deciphering codes based on teammates approach and set up to the ball to determine when and where to make runs. But now, since playing for both Tyresö FF and the US, I’ve noticed that the player on the ball often waits for me to signal them where to pass the ball. So I have to keep that in mind. While I'm reading them, they are reading me! It is a fluid exchange of signals that neither starts nor ends with the match.

There is a whole series of nonverbal cues before the game: tons of energy is created through the exchange of high fives, pregame dancing, and smiles. Sometimes the pre-game music plays so loudly the inevitable sing-a-long is drowned out completely (and in my case that's a good thing!!), so all that's left is an amped up scene of hearts pounding and fists pumping.

In time we become, though sometimes subconsciously, aware of one another's manners, styles, and cues. For example, Kling has a unique cross that very unexpectedly bends speedily behind the defensive line. As a forward running into the box, I wouldn't know to run in front of the defender to the near post or fill the space in behind unless I could read her body language. Her approach before playing this ball is atypical, which makes it deceptive for both the defender and the other attackers, but now I’ve learned her "tell" and can react before she kicks the ball. Every time we train, I become more fluent in our only universal dialect: body language.

On the other hand, we quite consciously try to crack our opponent's body language codes, which can make our job easier in the match. For example, defenders use their body with the intent of dictating what you do with the ball. It is the job of an attacker to pick up on that body code and exploit it to your advantage. You can do exactly what they don’t want you to do, forcing them to readjust and possibly gaining that invaluable extra second, orrrr not. I’ve noticed that if a defender “gives” Marta one side, she explodes past them right through do you say "See ya sucker!" in Portuguese? 

I am happy to report that communications are improving all around. Right before our first game in Damallsvenskan, I made a point of trying to encourage our new teammate and friend. So, in slightly botched Spanish, I asked Jenni how she was feeling. Un poco nerviosa. I tried to tell her not to feel alone on the field and that we are all in this together. We ended up laughing at my misused cognate, but her thumbs up let me know she got my intent. After the match—a win and a great premier—she ran over to me and gave me a big hug and a smile. I couldn't help but smile too. Message sent...message received.

USWNT 3 – Germany 3

USWNT 3 – Holland 1

Tyresö FF 1 – Umeå IK 0



  1. Hi Christen, great post! I believe body language is the key in different professions, although it is more important in sports played in group as soccer, handball, basketball, when you need "read" your mates and opponents. The good point is that more time you spend with a mate, more you know what your mate is saying with her body language. I hope that Tyreso's players will know the body language of all mates until the Champions League! :D
    "See ya sucker!" in portuguese is "Até logo otário!" and sorry about my bad english!

  2. I love how you do these posts. Not only are you a great player, you're also an inspirational person. I love all your thoughtful insights into playing the beautiful game and how your writing doesn't sound "fake" (or "forced") at all. The way you write is how I imagine you'd speak, more or less anyways. You're little anecdotes and everything. Keep up the good work, I look forward to seeing you playing more and more on the USWNT (and at Tyreso as well, of course). Oh, and I look forward to your posts too. Duh! Haha.


  3. What exactly is meant by, "It is a fluid exchange of signals that neither starts nor ends with the match" ?

    Are you saying because you know what "Kling" would order at a restaurant or how much she might tip after a cab ride that you'll know if she typically looks for a give and go or would try to take the outside mid up the line?

    I guess soccer can really be a true form of self expression, so it follows if you know someone very well off the field you know what they're going to do in most on field situation without having to verbally communicate about it.

    This is probably why the US men struggle so much. Yeah, many of them are now playing in higher caliber leagues overseas but all on different sides. So when they come together just a handful of times out of the year they are all a bunch of strangers. I guess this is why Spain, Germany, and you ladies play so well together i.e. how many players from these 3 teams play in their domestic league? A lot.

    Moral of the story I guess is take note of what your outside back's current favorite song is and you'll know whether or not to check for the ball or spin off the defender into space.

    In any case here is C Ron taking this (what I expect to be you point) sentiment to the limit. He's sooo dreamy