I have aged 5 years since my last blog and the balance I was looking for is now nonexistent. Fourteen hour days have become normalcy, dinners at home are not often, and life on the road has become routine. The line between preparation and paranoia is fine, as is the margin between winning and losing. The stress at this time of year can break a man and I find myself obsessing about every detail. My priorities have become jumbled into one. I find myself trying to do everything at once while watching the hours quickly tick away wishing there were just a few more left in each day. The days I do make it home in time to help put my son to bed, it is usually with a bag filled with three hours worth of work in tow. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just hope it isn’t an oncoming train.
The college season is a grind to begin with, add in the emotion that comes with league play in a very competitive conference, and that’s enough to fray anyone’s nerves. It’s been a tale of two seasons for us. The first half loaded with top non-conference competition and the second half, league play, where everything is on the line. As I mentioned in earlier blogs I was very happy with my team. At that time we were talented, had depth, and great team chemistry. Not all the results went our way, but we were playing some very good football. I could tell as time wore on we would grow as a team. However, what is always difficult to predict is the team’s mental state. Games come quickly and confidence plays a big role. How we would react to playing well and losing was a major concern of mine.
Since starting the season 2-4-1 we have gone 6-1-1 in our last 8 matches. What I have learned about my group of young men is that we not only have talent, depth and chemistry, but we also have courage, heart, and an inner self-belief. These qualities have served us well and have put us in a position to challenge for the NEC title. First, we had to finish in the top four in order to earn a place in the semifinal. This weekend we had our opportunity, but standing in our way was a difficult four day road trip with a 10 hour bus ride one way and two tough opponents. Two victories and the six points that come along with them would clinch us a spot in the top four and assure our place in the semis. I’m glad to report that we are 2 hours in to our 10hr return trip and there is singing and dancing going on at the back of the bus. We are into the semifinal with two regular season games left to play. The boys are happy and I am happy for them. We have accomplished our first goal and we are now on to our next.
Now breathe…But not for too long…There’s work to be done.
“This is what we train for!” that was the mantra going into our first regular season game vs. the #14 ranked team in the nation. Our season and home opener was definitely not a layup by any stretch of the imagination. Boston College was coming to town and along with them came the ACC label and a national ranking! We have been playing the Eagles for quite a few years now and each year they’re an excellent side. This season however, the anxiety surrounding this match up was nonexistent. “We’re ready.” I went to bed Thursday night with a clear mind and an optimistic attitude. When I awoke the next morning the feelings were the same. I felt this way because I knew we had prepared well. Finally, after 7 seasons we were allowed to report to pre-season on the NCAA start date. In years past the University set an arbitrary report date for all fall teams and we were left trying to prepare with only 7 to 9 days of training. By the time the BC game approached this year we had already been in camp for 17 days. The extra week has been vital for our preparations. Having the luxury to space things out, give our players necessary recovery time, and focus most of our attention on the ball, showed on the field. Our players were mentally and physically prepared to compete at a level demanded by such an opponent.
While the result did not go in our favor, the performance was very good. We fell to the Eagles 2-1; conceding two scrappy goals on a set piece and failed clearance from a long throw in. The play however told a different story. We moved the ball around very well with good possession and creative attacking play. But at the end of the day the scoreboard determines who wins and who loses, on this day they had one number higher than ours on that scoreboard. Following the match the boys were frustrated and disappointed. Honestly, that was the response I was hoping for. They played well as a team and individually everyone had a positive contribution, but we live and die on results, and the result didn’t go our way.
Immediately following the match my attention turns to the next opponent. I was concerned this week in training because for almost 3 weeks we have been isolated on a quiet campus. Not so much anymore! Campus is buzzing and not always for the right reasons. Students are back and classes are in session, therefore, distractions are ever present and attention spans are shorter. We draw some hard lines within our program and the boys know exactly what’s at stake and exactly what the consequences of their actions are. We have good leadership throughout the team and the group is extremely committed to our goals, yet my nerves are still on edge. I guess it’s a lot like handing over the keys to the car to your son or daughter for the very first time as they head out on their own. You trust them, you’re confident they will do the right things but you’re also scared to death! Now multiply that by the 25 players on our roster and that’s exactly how I’m feeling.
Since the BC match we have played twice, picking up a win on the road against Holy Cross and one at home vs. Lafayette. The team has responded well to the opening day let down. Their attitude has been excellent and each day they turn up to training with energy and excitement. It’s still early days and we have everything ahead of us, but the start is something to build upon. There will without a doubt be challenges ahead of us, but with a positive attitude and a focused direction we hope to arrive at our intended destination.
The past ten days have been extremely busy, but I have had time to follow one of our alumni as he continues his professional career. Freddy Hall a former goalkeeper of mine has recently signed with Toronto F.C. of Major League Soccer. Freddy signed a four-year contract with TFC and his first appearance for Toronto was a friendly against a little team named Liverpool Football Club. Liverpool is very much a club in transition at the moment, but their history commands great respect. As I sat and watched Freddy, I couldn’t help but swell up with pride. He is deserving of the opportunity and as a true student of the game I knew he completely understood the magnitude of the moment. Since arriving in Toronto, Freddy has won the starting job in goal and when he made his debut against Columbus our current team gathered on campus to watch one of our own. Freddy now serves as an inspiration to the current players in our squad. He is a tangible example of how with hard work and perseverance you can and will accomplish your goals.
In my last blog I spoke about balance and my attempt to find some. This week I have made it home for dinner on most nights, I have found time to sneak in a round of golf (I even managed the entire round with the same ball) and made it to two birthday parties, one of which came complete with pony rides and an appearance by Mickey Mouse. But in the coming weeks it will likely be time spent in front of the TV. The NFL season is on the horizon and I look forward to rooting for my New England Patriots. American football has always been my Fall release away from real football, you know, the one where you actually use your feet! As often as I can, weekend mornings are reserved for the Premier League or La Liga, but Sunday or Monday night is reserved for whoever is on. I think I enjoy the NFL simply because it coincides with the college season. It gives me an excuse to stop breaking down film or scouting or overthinking things. But, we are in season and the vast majority of my time is spent breaking down film, scouting, and overthinking things.
What a week!
Early mornings, late nights, double sessions and diaper changes! Pre-season with a three month old was a heck of a lot easier than pre-season with a 14 month old! I definitely took for granted the fact that at this time last year my wife was home with our new born child. Sure there were sleepless nights and late night feedings, but at 6am the alarm clock rang and shortly thereafter I was out the door. Not so much these days! My wife is now back to working three shifts a week as a nurse and on those days it’s dad who has drop offs and pick-ups. Let’s just say my mornings aren’t as easy as they used to be.
At 5:30am the alarm starts to ring and after hitting the snooze button once or twice I’m finally out of bed. Then it’s into the shower, shave, get dressed and ready to go for the day. 6:30am down stairs to brew some coffee, let the dog out, feed the dog, and feed myself. 7am back upstairs to wake up Jr., change his diaper, bathe him, dress, him, then back downstairs, feed the baby, pack him up and hit the road. Wait! Not so fast! Jr. needs another diaper change! 8am stop at Dunkin Donuts (I swear I can’t drive by one of these without stopping!) for the second cup of the day. 8:30am drop the boy off at the sitter. 8:45am finally made it to the office, drop off my bag, turn on the computer and head out to the field to set up the first session of the day! 10:00am the field is set and the boys are ready to go.
The wild card in this wonderful morning is if my son gets up before I’m even remotely close to being ready. In this case all bets are off; anything can happen and usually does. While I’m trying to get ready this kid will literally find everything in the house that he isn’t supposed to have. I thought we had baby proofed, but people forget to inform you that when your baby grows you need to re-proof. FYI if anyone needs tips on baby proofing a house, I’ll drop my son off for an hour. He will without a doubt find everything and anything that needs to be tied down, moved, capped, locked or thrown away! Long gone are the days when he just ate and slept.
Fourteen hour days are the norm during the pre-season and it won’t let up anytime soon. We are eleven days in with six more to go. The sessions have gone very well thus far. The boys came in with a good base and performed very well on all of the fitness tests. When players come in fit, it makes it easier for us to integrate the new players into our system as we work to implement our style of play. We’ve been able to focus most of our attention on the technical and tactical portion of the game while getting our fitness on the ball. The returning players have shown good leadership and have helped the newcomers adjust. There are some very talented players in this recruiting class and they have already started to compete for important roles in the squad.
On Wednesday we faced our first test of the season. We welcomed the University of Rhode Island to Hamden for a preseason friendly. I think we were all anxious to get out there and compete against someone other than ourselves in order to get a more realistic gauge of where we currently stand. The boys did very well. We defeated URI 6-1 and received goals from five different players. Of course any time you score that many goals there must have been things you did well, but there were also some areas of concern that we need to focus our attention on this coming week.
To this point we were yet to have a day off. On Thursday morning we had our scheduled recovery session with the strength coach. At the conclusion of the session I entered the locker room to inform the boys that they have earned the right to have the rest of the day off. An impromptu celebration immediately erupted complete with dancing and singing. I think it’s safe to say they were happy with the news! Unfortunately for my staff and me a day off for the boys does not equal a day off for us. We spent the rest of the day breaking down film and finding all the things we did wrong in Wednesdays match. There were also some things we did well. But a coach is never satisfied.
At Quinnipiac I do not have the luxury of a full time assistant, but I am blessed with a great staff that sacrifice so much for this program by dedicating their time and effort. Their dedication, loyalty, and commitment to me are something that I am truly grateful for. Chris Bart-Williams works primarily with the defenders and is also hands on with the day to day training of the team. He has been with me four years now and is an asset to the program. Jason Grubb is entering his second season and is responsible for training the goalkeepers. Graciano Brito is the most important person on my staff. He played for me, was my captain and the all-time leading scorer in our programs Division I history. Graci has many responsibilities, but most important is the work he does inside the team. The players trust him and know they can speak to him about anything in complete confidence. It is important for players to have an avenue to vent if needed, and Graci is that sounding board. Individually we all have different coaching styles, but our strengths complement each other well making us a very efficient unit. While all of the everyday responsibilities off the field fall directly on my shoulders, it is vital for me to have a group of individuals in which I can trust with on field duties. Running a Division I program is nearly impossible for one person to handle alone, but over eight years I have learned how to efficiently multitask and juggle. Without my staff, our program would not be what it is.
During the next four months I will be a Coach, Teacher, Father, Husband, Friend, Mentor, Psychologist, Recruiter, Evaluator, Secretary, Paper Pusher, Travel Coordinator, and Equipment Manager. As a college coach finding balance is extremely important, but it isn’t easy. I will be the first to tell you that for me finding that balance has been a challenge, but the birth of my son has defiantly changed my priorities. While I’m still not great at it, I’m practicing what I preach; I’m working hard to get better.
When Soccer Banter first approached me about being involved in their series of College Soccer Blogs this fall my initial reaction was; “Great! Add another item onto the to do list.” However, as I sit to write the first of what will likely be many blogs, I get the sense this will become a therapeutic exercise (apologies in advance for the random venting which is undoubtedly forthcoming!).
This season will mark my 8th year as Head Coach at Quinnipiac University and each year the feeling going into pre-season is the same. There’s the excitement of the new season, the anxiety over meshing new personalities, and stress! A whole lot of stress! The summer has come and gone way too quickly, but I’m ready to get back into the everyday routine of working with my team. I’ve spent the summer working of course, with the normal routine of recruiting, ordering equipment, securing buses, booking hotels, and a host of other things that are too long to list here. But I have also spent a great deal of time with my son who just turned one in June. Watching him grow and helping him learn new things have been some of the most rewarding moments of my life. I’ve played more golf than I have in quite some time and subsequently lost an obscene number of golf balls in the process. I was able to watch almost every Euro Cup match, rooting for Portugal of course, and again allowing them to break my heart in yet another major tournament. There has also been a great deal of reading, self-study, and professional development. All of which I hope will help me guide my team to a successful year.
The start of pre-season officially marks the end of my summer and that end was evident this morning as the boys arrived on campus. We have a squad of twenty five players, ten internationals representing nine countries and fifteen Americans from six states. Day one was a busy one. Move in, physicals, head shots, equipment distribution, compliance, and academic meetings were all on the agenda. Nine new players with a million questions, seniors with missing paperwork (you would think in their 4th year they would have figured it out) and a rookie asking if the three o’clock meeting in the “Grand Court Room” was downtown! While the day was hectic it did go smoothly. There seems to be great chemistry already developing with this group and the newcomers seem to have integrated nicely. The two weeks ahead will be challenging both physically and mentally, but the foundation we lay will give us the base to build off of.
The first of many 16-hour days comes to an end, but the journey has only just begun. I look forward to sharing my experiences with you this fall and sincerely hope you enjoy reading about them. I thank Soccer Banter for the opportunity and for helping promote the college game. Good luck and best wishes to all of the college coaches and players who follow Soccer Banter. May your seasons be both memorable and successful.