2015 Varsity Season – Early lineup challenges

The 2015 season will represent my 5th season as the head coach of the varsity girls’ soccer program at the Manhattan school that I teach at.

While I think I’ve done reasonably well so far and picked up what I needed quickly, I know I have a long way to go to reach a level that I’m genuinely happy with.  I’ve decided to spend some time in the coming season reflecting on the diversity of the moving parts that make up a team, as well as my own role as the facilitator of the growth of the program.

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We’ve not even made it to the end of the 2014-15 school year and there are already challenges developing with the lineup for next season.

Some of the issues were anticipated given that this is the largest graduating class I’ve had since I started four years ago.  I’ve been very fortunate to never lose more than three players to graduation in a given season prior to this.  I had a roster of 15 in 2011, and only three of those were senior.  Of those three only two were starters.  I graduated three of 22 in 2012, and three of 21 in 2013.  With incoming freshman classes being five or more, and player attrition for other reasons usually being no more than one or two players per year, we’ve been basically building a very cohesive team for years.

Our 2015 squad is losing seven players from ’14 to graduation, including three girls who were four-year starters, and four players that run right up the spine of the team.  I knew it was coming, but it certainly is a hit to the squad.  And with only one freshman on the squad in ’14, that leaves us with 13 returners.  During last season we worked hard to bring younger players into places on the field that were going to be vacated in the off-season, but that is not a 1-year process any more than teaching those previous players the system was.  I expect a bit of a step back next season for this reason alone, but I have confidence in the girls who are returning to keep playing at a high level.

Another major challenge is at the goalkeeping position.  I’ve been working on grooming a goalkeeper across the last three seasons.  She was new to the position as a freshman, and struggled with some of the basics.  But over the last two seasons she’s really come into her own, and been a standout player on our squad.  She struggled with injury in 2014, but still played 8 games, with a 0.75 goals against average.  Unfortunately her injury problems followed her into a different sports season, and she tore knee ligaments playing basketball.  After surgery it is extremely unlikely she will return in time for next year.  There is the potential for a freshman goalkeeper to come in, someone I’ve spoken with, but that is far from certain.  The number of potential additions to the team next year is a complete unknown at this point.

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If we choose to keep our system, a 4-4-2 variation that plays more like a 4-3-1-2, this is how I project us setting up.  The numbers are all 2014 numbers.  It is worth noting that this projection includes several girls playing in new positions, including the attacking midfielder, and the left center back.

Of course there is always the option to adapt the system to the players we have, something I’ve done before, but right now our team not only knows this system the best given that we started it when most of the will-be seniors were freshman, but also doesn’t readily lend itself to a different one at this moment.  Preseason may bring a fresh perspective.

The main concern in formulating a line up that I think will be successful is the lack of a true center or defensive midfielder.  I helped the last girl ease into that role over a couple seasons, and would be more than happy to start that process again, but the girl that lends herself most readily to that position is needed elsewhere on the field, and there aren’t any ready replacements for her there either.

As I said before, preseason always brings a fresh look at the squad, and new things stand out to me as girls grow and progress, but I do usually give some consideration to where the squad is at as we shuffle from graduation each year.

2015 Varsity Season – Setting the schedule

The 2015 season will represent my 5th season as the head coach of the varsity girls’ soccer program at the Manhattan school that I teach at.

While I think I’ve done reasonably well so far and picked up what I needed quickly, I know I have a long way to go to reach a level that I’m genuinely happy with.  I’ve decided to spend some time in the coming season reflecting on the diversity of the moving parts that make up a team, as well as my own role as the facilitator of the growth of the program.

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I’m starting this reflection now in March because, although the bulk of the season takes place from August to October, Feb/March is when I begin my preparations in earnest.  This is the time of year when my athletic director and I begin discussing the schedule for the coming fall and putting games into place.  This is an ongoing conversation as we decide how to supplement our short league schedule with teams outside our league that can both challenge us and help us grow.  By my count most competitive teams in our area play between 14 and 18 games in a full season, counting playoffs and preseason scrimmages.  I have been pushing for a 15 game schedule since my first year with the team.

This is somewhat of a tall order though.  It’s not as simple as just scheduling 15 games in our area.  It is very difficult to find field space for a game as there’s a lack of available fields, and additionally the fall season is the shortest season of the year by far.  A typical season for us runs about nine or ten weeks from the beginning of preseason until the week of playoffs, assuming we qualify.  The league sets their schedule, and then my AD and I try to fill in the holes.  Since there’s only seven teams in our league (actually nine, but two schools drop their girls soccer season due to lack of players in most seasons) that leaves a lot of ground to make up to create a competitive schedule.

When considering dates to put games on we look at trying to avoid three games in a week where possible, or at least avoid having that for more than one week in a row.  We also avoid putting games on Tuesdays, because that’s the one day each week we’re guaranteed a permit for practice space at the public field.

Here is a look at the preliminary schedule we have for the 2015 season.  Dark blue dates are confirmed games, and light blue dates are suggested game dates:

Nonspecific schedule for post

The beginning of preseason and first day of school are still not confirmed at this time, so that may be adjusted in the coming weeks, but the game dates and days off school are definite at this point.

As you can see only two of the confirmed dates are non-league right now, which leaves us with at least five or six holes to fill to round out the season.  This particular year, if it comes close to this, would be the most games we’ve played in my tenure.  We are still looking at who to play, mostly considering teams we’ve played in recent years, but also looking at school size and recent results to determine who else might be a good addition.  It’s important to choose teams that are good enough to push us, but not so big as to beat us out of hand.

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I expect that the schedule will be mostly set before we end school in June, but even before it’s finished I will have to consider our summer workout plan.  At the end of each school year I gather the returning players and discuss getting fit in the summer.  That’s something I’ll go into in a future post.

2015 Varsity Season – The Program

The 2015 season will represent my 5th season as the head coach of the varsity girls’ soccer program at the Manhattan school that I teach at.  I’ve learned the ropes of coaching largely on the fly as I’ve never really been an assistant anywhere.  My previous coaching experience has been that of a counselor at soccer camps of various ages, from 3rd – 12th grade, across various years, and one season of co-coaching a varsity coed team in the DC beltway area.

While I think I’ve done reasonably well so far and picked up what I needed quickly, I know I have a long way to go to reach a level that I’m genuinely happy with.  I’ve decided to spend some time in the coming season reflecting on the diversity of the moving parts that make up a team, as well as my own role as the facilitator of the growth of the program

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First, a little background on the program I run.  The school is a private school in Manhattan.  It’s a preK-12 school with about 650 students total, about 250 of which make up the high school.  They have no sports facilities of their own aside from a very tiny gym in the high school building, but rent gym space from a local church at a nearby site, and use local public fields for outdoor sports.  These public fields require permits for use.

The girls’ varsity soccer team is now eight years old as of the completion of the 2014 season.  The previous four seasons were all lead by the same coach, but the team was not in a league, so each season was comprised of around eight or so games against an ever changing group of schools.  Before the girls got their own team the school had a coed team for a few years, and before that it was strictly a boys team.  The only championship in school history was won by a boys team in the early 90s.  We compete in a small league that is comprised of private schools in the New York City area, most of which are in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

I typically have around 20 girls each season, although my first season was less than 15.  The commitment level was lower then, and things like practice and preseason were more optional than mandatory.

In the last four years we, meaning the girls that have joined the program in that time and I both, have turned the entire tenor of the team around.  Whereas I was lucky to get seven or eight players out for the first week of preseason in the past, this season we had 17 girls, with the other three joining us in the second week.  Practice attendance has risen from about 60% to about 90%, with almost a quarter of the team attending every practice.  Given that I’m working with girls who are under tremendous pressure to also be successful students, and who have numerous commitments in a school that offers them a tremendous number of opportunities, I’m pleased.