You've made it another week, go you!! Well, congrats on being as awesome as you are and for tuning in to this week's Happy Hour. On this lovely Friday, Graham chatted with Amber Michel who is a former SportRx intern and USD alumni, so we're very fond of her and so happy to have her on to chat with us. She speaks on her time playing professional soccer in Iceland, the culture, and her time coaching. This is a story you won't want to miss. Read below to get the full scoop on Amber Michel!
G: Amber we're stoked to have you on. You're our first soccer play on the show so we're excited about that. Why don't we start off by you telling us a bit about your internship here with us at SportRx, give the viewers an idea of what you got to experience?
A: Yeah I definitely learned so much from SportRx from the short time I was there interning. I worked on the content/marketing side and we just dived right in, we were just going going going. Nick (head of the content team) was great leading the team of interns. I gained so much future knowledge, I feel like that internship helped me learn a lot about what I can use in the real world. So it was great!
G: Well hopefully you're kicking soccer balls for a long time and won't need the marketing skills. Anyway, let's kick it off, why don't you telling us how you ended up playing professional soccer in Iceland.
A: So I went to USD, played soccer there, and about the last few games of my senior season I was like okay I want to keep doing this, I want to keep playing soccer. So my teammate who I played with for 2 years had played for this team in Iceland before and she loved it. So she told me their goalie left and that they were looking for a new one and Jackie asked me if I wanted to go play in Iceland. This was something I wanted to do so I got in touch with the coaches over there and got going and now I'm here.
G: That's awesome, it's interesting how different sports work. Pro sports have very different recruitment or draft processes. So going back into your days playing here in sunny San Diego at USD, did you ever imagine playing in Iceland?
A: No my geography is really poor so when Jackie said Iceland I was like where is that? But I really wanted to keep playing soccer and join a team with a good culture and that was competitive in the league. So I researched it a bit and it was all pretty pictures and the atmosphere here is amazing so I just wanted to play soccer, it wasn't too much about the place but it been so cool to learn a whole new culture and be part of something different than the United States.
G: Yeah what's it like playing internationally? On top of your teammates' cultures who I presume are from all over too.
A: Yeah well for ours we had three foreigners on our team and we're all from America so that's been helpful. They speak Icelandic and English, our team is pretty good at being patient with us. We try our best to learn Icelandic but it's way worse than their English is to us. I think being immersed in a new culture you have so much to learn. It's been amazing to learn all the new things, like the food they eat. We live in the North part of Iceland and it's very fish-based. So there are tons of different ways they cook fish; there's fish balls, salmon, another pink fish, and I'm kind of a picky eater so I had to adjust a bit. NO mac and cheese, or different candies so that was tough, I love sweets. But I've been blessed to be immersed in a new culture and it been an amazing experience.
G: I think that's one of the greatest parts of travel. The food, the people, the atmosphere, it's all so unique, and on top of that, you have the sports aspect. It's also an interesting time to do this, with COVID. What was it like making the decision to go during?
A: So we signed before COVID all happened. We planned a preseason trip to Portugal but that got canceled because of COVID. We changed our flights about three or four times because there were quarantine rules. We ended up coming the first week in May and had to quarantine for two weeks. So it was nice we had each other, me Jackie and the other American girls. We played cards, colored, and just tried to keep busy. We were allowed to go outside for runs and walks but we just tried to stay busy. It was a crazy time for travel, we had to get a special letter from the governor to let us in because tourists weren't allowed in so that was definitely a stressful process. But made it here, got through quarantine, and now we're set. It's so different from America though, we're currently in a COVID pause right now, our last game got postponed. No one really wears masks here and kids are still in school, while the US is still on hold.
G: It's such a strange year for sports, especially internationally for American athletes that play overseas. But glad you got there and got to experience it right out of college. So in that first two weeks, did you get to do anything virtually or meet any of your other teammates from Iceland?
A: Yeah so our apartment has a balcony so a lot of our teammates came to the bottom of our balcony to introduce themselves. That was really cool, right there I knew that the team had chemistry. They wanted to get to know us and get to know me and get to make that connection without even knowing me yet so that was really awesome. We had a good hour-long conversation. There's a team photo in our place now that I would practice getting to know all their names so when I got to the field I would know who everyone was. I knew if I could get out onto the field and know their names it would be helpful. As a goalkeeper, I have to talk a lot so knowing their names was really helpful.
G: That brings a good question to mind. We were talking about language barriers, how were their names to learn? was that difficult?
A: I had one girl's name wrong for probably a straight month and no one corrected me because they knew who I was talking to. Yeah, they don't have a c in their alphabet, its a k instead, so it was tricky at first but now I feel pretty confident with saying names. But it's really hard, especially trying to say them fast while on the field.
G: So you get out of quarantine, you get to know the girls, how quickly did you guys start playing games?
A: So we had two weeks to practice and then we got into scrimmage games and then right into the season. We did very well this season, we actually won our league! We're getting promoted to the top league which is the first time in our club history. These are big things that we're doing but every single teammate had an impact to get us there. Ultimately we had a really good season. Something I realized about the team and the players is everyone works their tail off the entire time, giving 100% the entire time. That's something you really want from your teammates so that was really great to be a part of this season.
G: That's so awesome, that's what it takes to be a good team. How was it playing in this town in Iceland, were they really excited for you?
A: The town has been amazing, there's a home-like feel to the town. I compare it to Texas football, everyone is coming out to the games and keeping up with our schedule. You pass people on the street and they say hi and everyone is so supportive. That's what you need to continue as a very small club in the big leagues.
G: That's really cool, and you're going to impact those people's lives and that's one of the greatest parts of sports. So we have a few questions here from our Marketing Team, mostly from Steph, but on your off days do you get to go out and explore, see the glaciers, etc?
A: Yeah so one of my teammates, Mere has this whole map with everything on it; waterfalls, glaciers, lagoons. So every weekend we have some time to go out. We've seen the second tallest waterfall in Iceland, gone to hot springs, and natural hot rivers. There's so much in Iceland to see and I definitely haven't seen all of it but it's so beautiful. You have to be an outdoor person to enjoy this beauty, but even if you're not the small things will make you appreciate them too.
G: Sounds amazing! In fact, it sounds like my kind of place I'm an outdoorsy person. So I know depending on the season you have extended daylight or a lack of daylight. What stage were you in for the majority of the year?
A: During the summer they have daylight even when you go to bed, then in the winter it's dark the majority of the day. We actually looked it up the other day, getting into December there are only about 5 hours of dim lightness. But right now it's been getting dark around 6:30, so not too bad. And the sun comes up around 8:30/ 9 o'clock. Pretty much like a normal day in San Diego Id say. I personally won't be here for the winter, I don't think I can handle it but it's something I've learned to appreciate about the culture. There are people who work all day in the dark and rely on the street lights. I don't know if I could spend an entire day in the dark.
G: So Steph Leilani (our Email Coordinator) asks, what's it like to see the Northern Lights?
A: Yeah I've seen them twice, once pretty faintly, but it's amazing. You just look up and if they are strong then they dance around all purple and green. We got a few pictures but you don't see that in San Diego, you see some stars and sunsets but it's another part of the world and another part of the beauty of Iceland.
G: Well before we close out here I'd like to talk about what it's like, you win your league this year, and you're moving up to the Pepsi league, what kind of pressure and challenges does this bring?
A: Yeah so Pepsi is definitely a whole other level. We're going to have to change a few things in the club but it's an exciting thing. Competing at a higher level, who doesn't want that. The top two teams that finish, compete within a smaller bracket that all the top teams in Europe play in. I think next year the goal is to win everything we can but it's also preparing just to do our best. I think that's the way you have to look at it. We're entering a whole new league that this team has never been a part of, were going to do our best, and hope that we win.
G: That's awesome, I look forward to watching and I have a lot of faith in you guys. So I'm seeing here on our feed, a few people are commenting that you're a phenomenal coach. I assume you coach when you're not playing yourself. Tell us a bit about how you got into coaching.
A: I started doing some camps and individual coaching when I was in college. Then I was the assistant coach of my old high school for the past two years. It was an amazing experience I actually coached with my coach who I played for while I was there. I just love getting to know the girl's personalities, they bring a lot of joy to my life. I'm even able to have a team here and, I coach youth 15-16, and they've just been a bundle of joy in my life. It's definitely been an experience because they speak Icelandic, they do speak English but sometimes the words don't always go through. That's been a learning experience and an amazing one at that. These girls keep me on my toes.
G: Well they're lucky to have you as a role model. There's a give and take with coaching, there's a moment that you give something to a kid and they look up at you and it's just amazing! So cool that you get to foster them on that journey to hopefully play at your level one day.
So the final question I must ask is, what sunglasses are you wearing these days?
A: I have the Costa Vela, I rock them every time I go out, repping SportRx everywhere I go.
G: Well awesome Amber, thanks so much for coming on, it's been wonderful having you!
Be sure to follow Amber on social media @ambermichel33 & follow us on Instagram to be alerted for every Happy Hour Live Chat with Graham!