Örebro Black Knights HC Sam Eisenstadt credits meditation for team’s passing renaissance ahead of Swedish title game

For as long as anyone can remember, the Örebro Black Knights have been a running football team. Sure, they’ve had some success through the air — that’s the way it is in the modern era — but when push came to shove, it was time to pound it on the ground. Win in the trenches, that was simply expected.

Eyeing their first ever Swedish title on Saturday, Örebro is defined by three yards and a cloud of dust no longer.

The arrival of head coach Sam Eisenstadt and 6’6″ quarterback Trevor Vasey this offseason has sparked something of a passing renaissance for the Black Knights, and the country has been forced to take notice. Vasey threw for 929 yards and 12 touchdowns this season as his team clinched the top seed heading into the playoff for the first time in club history, the second highest passing total in Sweden over the last three years.

He achieved the feat in just three games.

While that success has surprised their opponents in the Superserien, Eisenstadt knew from the beginning his team was capable of that sort of production. He just had to imbue them with the confidence to make it happen.

“We knew going in that we had a really talented young group of receivers. I think most of our receivers are 21 or younger with a couple exceptions. And then Trevor, he’s been up and down in his career but talking to him, I just believed that he had not fully tapped his potential yet,” Eisenstadt explained ahead of the title game.

“Believing in him and also believing in these young receivers has been a massive piece of it, because such a big part of football is confidence.”

Black Knights QB Trevor Vasey Photo: Jonas Domfors

Vasey has certainly appeared confident as he picks apart opposing defenses, as have his receivers. Johannes Lindeus and Filip Wetterberg currently sit one and two on the Swedish receiving charts, and Jesper Lindeus has them both beat in average yards per game, posting 124 in his lone outing against Carlstad.

Most coaches would attribute getting success like that from a receiving corps to their own schemes or technical prowess, but Eisenstadt believes something else can be credited: the art of mediation. It was something he adopted himself to help deal with anxiety and depression, but has instituted on his team to much acclaim. Pass catchers, in particular, seem to benefit from the practice.

“I’ve been meditating for six years and it’s helped me in my own life, so once I became a head coach this year, I wanted to implement some type of meditation within the team. Before practices, we’ll meditate for three minutes, just get quiet and follow our breath. I think slowing down and doing something like that has made a huge impact,” Eisenstadt said of his unorthodox philosophy.

“Guys have communicated how that has allowed them to calm down and kind of find their center. For receivers, that’s a massive part in slowing the game down, actually being able to focus on the ball and to be dynamic in the game.”

The results speak for themselves and the Black Knights are now poised for a chance to take home the first national championship in team history. In their way stands the Stockholm Mean Machines, a team they shocked in their first meeting with five passing touchdowns on the way to a 33-20 victory.

Sam Eisenstadt during Black Knights training camp, Spring 2021 Photo: Jonas Domfors

Offensively, they’ll look to do the same thing again, but on defense, the challenge is different. With Stockholm quarterback Brett Hunchak still nursing an injury, receiver Matthew Retzlaff is expected to run the wildcat rushing attack he did in the semi-final. Somewhat ironically, the hopes of a team remade through the air will now hinge on stopping the ground game, but Eisenstadt and his team remain more focused on themselves.

“Now we’re preparing for Retzlaff at quarterback, so they’re offense is completely changed. Our defensive game plan is different, but our approach is the same, which is to try to be the best we can be,” he emphasized.

“We don’t focus too much on other teams, who we’re playing and the players they have. We’re more focused on coming to practice, having great focus and being the best we can be. I think that’s translated well in the season so far.”

Losing that focus could spell defeat, something Örebro knows all too well from their previous six title appearances, all losses. Eisenstadt won’t dismiss that the pressure is building, but his easy-going emphasis on confidence and meditation extends here too.

“I think everybody knows that this could be the year we get the gold and it is a heightened intensity and hopefully not too much pressure on these guys. I know everybody really wants to win, but we’ve just been emphasizing in practice that we feel like that we’ve already won,” Eisenstadt insisted.

“Not the game necessarily, but we’re winning because we have a strong team and we just have so much fun at practice, training together and just being with each other. When you really break it down, a championship is great, but the thing you’re going to remember is the process and the journey, and we are winning at that.”

Only Saturday will reveal if that is a mindset that can help his team finally hoist a trophy, but either way, they are better off in life for it.

Watch the Swedish Championship Game live on AFI.tv, Saturday, July 10 at 15:00 CET (3 pm, 09:00 am ET).

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.