A college preseason program is just as challenging for coaches as it is for the players. With only sixteen days to prepare before the first game, you have to manage the physical preparation of the team, introduce an effective system of play, and instill a spirit that can propel the team over the next three months of elite competition. Time is the biggest factor for building teams during this critical stage. It is time to get committed, work with quality, and build relationships. There is no time for excuses and, of course, no time to waste.
Modern day preseason is not simply about pushing your players to their physical limits every session however, so rest and recovery is just as important as the work on the field. At CSUB, we have focused on our physical work directly alongside a tactical periodization model which focuses on high intensity training exercises and principles that we believe can make us effective. We have trained twice a day – one session in the morning and another late in the evening, with an afternoon meeting and a four-hour window where players can sleep and recover.
Everything about our training has been geared towards the game. Success in soccer isn’t always governed by what you do on the ball, but also what you do when you don’t have it. Competition has been another element of our practice program that we have looked to include in every session because dealing with pressure will play a critical role in our success this year. We want to instill a culture of winning into this program, so there is something at stake in every exercise. Eventually, this will become habit for our players.
From a team spirit perspective, we have focused first and foremost on developing strong relationships within our group. Our captains and senior leaders began this process in May by reaching out to the freshmen class and connecting with them every week. In building those relationships, our captains can now lead through trust and influence rather than simply by authority. You gain respect from teammates by what you say and also, importantly, what you do. Our senior players did this by coming into preseason with extremely high fitness levels. This allowed them to have a greater impact on the team. I firmly believe that the foundations of team spirit are centered around treating everyone in the right way. If you are willing to go outside your comfort zone to help teammates off the field, you will most likely do so on the field as well. People who play for CSUB now play for each other. Time will tell if we can turn this spirit into a competitive advantage for our program but that is the goal.
Our new assistant coach, Clifton Bush, has been a welcome addition to the staff and has helped us in a number of areas. I have been really impressed with his coaching philosophies, as well as his vast knowledge of the game. With an impressive coaching background, Clifton has a really professional approach to his coaching and the team has embraced his views on the game. His communication skills are top class. Every time he speaks to the players, he delivers something of substance.
It is hard to believe the opening weekend of the season is upon us and we are 24 hours away from kicking off against Gonzaga. I think our players our ready for the games to start coming, and the coaching staff are ready to measure our work against some top teams. Right now, it is all about our approach. You always need to start the season energetic, enthusiastic, optimistic, focused, and ready to enjoy/embrace the rigors of the coming season. We have spent the past two and a half weeks learning how to prepare in the right way. Now we have to have the commitment and discipline to apply those skills when the lights come on and the whistle goes. It will not be easy but it will certainly be worth it!
Gary Curneen is the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at California State University Bakersfield. Gary holds a UEFA ‘A’ License from the Irish FA and a “Premier Diploma” from the NSCAA. Gary gained a Master’s in Business Administration from Wingate University, where he was the Head Women’s Soccer Coach from 2005-2013, taking them to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s history. He also worked at University of Cincinnati as an Assistant Coach in 2013. He is the author of ‘Modern Soccer Coach 2014’ which is currently ranked in top 3 soccer coaching books in both Amazon Europe and US.