There was a glimmer of hope when we received two transfers into the school district. Both were athletic young men with some experience playing soccer. Alas, both decided against playing for their new school.
In an effort to insure I would have a team to coach this fall, I applied for other coaching positions in the area. My Athletic Director had full knowledge of this. In fact, he was very understanding and even supportive of my doing so. I received two offers to coach elsewhere. In the end I turned both down to stay at Fairlawn and build.
Good question. The 2017 season was a disaster by my standards. Some members of the senior class drove some younger interested players away to protect their own playing time. I know this because several of those who decided at the last minute not to play told me they didn’t feel welcomed on the team with two of those specifying certain seniors made them feel that way. In all honesty, this is more common than people may want to believe. The frequency at which this occurs does not justify it happening in any program though. In this case, the legacy of the departed senior class having contributed to the death of a program stood as a real possibility.
When official practice began on August 1st our roster stood at 9 players. The decision was made to cancel all non-league contests reducing our schedule to a mere seven games. The idea was to survive the season and maintain good standing in the league. We only need to field 7 players to play a game. I was not sure the league would agree playing undermanned would keep us in good standing, but honoring our league contracts seemed like the bare minimum we could do.
We played that first game with 10 players. We lost big on the scoreboard. We won elsewhere. The courage and spirit the student athletes played with was something to behold. By the second game we had grown the roster to 13 players. None of the new players had any soccer experience worth mentioning. They had want-to though! All played their first match on a day when the temperature soared into the 90’s with humidity close behind. We lost big again. And to be honest, for awhile we lost some of the fearlessness and spirit we had shown in the first match. We regained it after a water break we used as a timeout. I had seen enough by games end to believe the start of something good, potentially very good, indeed was upon us.
The day after the second match was a recovery day. We watched a YouTube video titled Watch this every day.
Afterwards, the players were fired up. Their spirit was again palpable. We have been riding the crest of this new momentum ever since. Tremendous esprit de corps. Great work ethic. And the want-to? Oh my! Needless to day I have really enjoyed coaching these young men and women. I made a conscious effort to bring and give energy to them, but have found it is they who have brought energy to me as well.
Our season came to an end last night as we lost to the #3 team in the state at their place in the OHSAA tournament. We wet 0-7-0 in the regular season and lost our lone tournament game. Never scored a goal. On won / lost record alone this was easily my worst season ever as a coach. But I knew what we were up against this season and measured success differently.
A co-ed team playing boys varsity soccer has a built in disadvantage to begin with. We ended up having 14 players at season's end. Three seniors (2 boys and 1 girl) - one of whom was a legitimate experienced varsity caliber player. The other two are new to high school soccer. One junior (girl) who if she played on a girls team would fair well and never backs down against the boys teams we play. Four sophomores (3 boys and 1 girl). Two of the boys played extensively as freshmen. The other boy and girl were first time soccer players. That 3rd boy really excelled though by combining tremendous work ethic with becoming a student of the game. And five freshmen ( 3 boys and 2 girls). Both girls are very good for freshman girls. Not ready for varsity boys soccer good, but quite good for high school freshman girls. One of the boys is of average ability for a freshman boy - on the smallish side and decent skills. The other two freshman boys were new to soccer.
Our focus was almost exclusively on developing individual skills as practice opened. It had to be. What we did was to quantify and track every skill we could. We also timed and recorded for every conditioning exercise we did. Setting and breaking personal records was a means to show improvement on both an individual and collective basis. We did not focus on the scoreboard. Our focus was on setting and meeting in-game goals and the process of improving as measured by PR's. This allowed us to feel successful and measure improvement throughout the season. We strove to be a better, improved version of ourselves eat the end of every practice and every game.
By not setting unrealistic goals like winning games or even scoring a goal we allowed a spirit to take root, grow and blossom. It was truly a special sight to behold for this old coach. These young men and women competed with everything they had every game they played. They competed to become better versions of themselves and were wildly successful.
The experienced players were exceptional teammates. It would have been so easy for them not to have played soccer this season or to play hero ball in trying to do more than their fair share, but they did not do these things. They mentored the new players and helped coach them up. They strove to play the right way. There was so very little negativity ... amazingly so. I am in awe and wonder of this TEAM of young men and women.
Over decades of coaching I have worked with many a team and thousands of individuals. This group is special. I will forever remember fondly these young men and women of Fairlawn Soccer 2018.
For the first time ever, Fairlawn fielded a middle school soccer team. There were approximately 20 student athletes who participated in that program. Eleven of those were 8th graders eligible to play high school soccer next year. If everyone from this years high school team with eligibility remaining returns for next season this would give us 22 players. Plus, there are two others who have expressed interest in playing next year - both with club experience.
Is it possible to double the number of participants despite not winning a game, despite not scoring a single goal? Apparently so. And that will be the legacy of the 2018 Fairlawn Soccer TEAM.