Sunday, August 8, 2010
So let’s just say the first week of preseason is behind us. The days all run together at this point, but I know tonight is Sunday, and Monday starts a new week, so our first week, although abbreviated on the front end, is over.
Like several thousand other college soccer players across this nation, the Dawgs went to bed Tuesday night dreading the fitness test that awaited them on Wednesday morning. And for good reason. Fitness tests are freaking hard. No way around it. Plus there’s the part where you pass or fail, which is sure to red-line your internal stress-o-meter.
So here’s the thing about Coach Steve Holeman… he likes numbers. A lot. He’s got a math brain. He’s an engineer in a soccer coach’s body. That’s why, whenever I need his help with any kind of mathematical figuring, I just call him Rainman. He’s the kind of guy who will relax by balancing his checkbook. If he lived in Ancient Greece he probably would've invented the triangle. He’s that smart.
Anyway, point being, I’m going to guess that we have the most mathematically complex fitness testing system in the nation. A lot of programs have one or two tests, and you either pass or fail. We, on the other hand, have four tests where players can achieve a maximum score of 42 total points. A player who accumulates a minimum of 32 points over those four tests has passed our fitness standard. But it’s much deeper than just that. Because in addition to points, players can attain half-points or, heaven forbid, negative points. If you give me a day and a half I can explain it all to you, but the bottom line is that Coach Holeman has combined his coaching experience with his math affinity to create a foolproof system where players, even the fittest ones, have to bust it on every repetition of every test.
Okay, I can’t resist. So the final test is 120s… that’s ten 120 yard sprints in 18 seconds (for a point), under 21 seconds (for half a point), over 23 seconds (a negative half a point), and over 25 seconds (for a negative point). Then you have 62 seconds to return to your starting point before the next repetition begins.
The scoring system wasn’t just something Steve dreamed up overnight. It’s evolved over 20 years of watching players find and shimmy through loopholes in the testing. Steve’s competitive about a lot of things, but I think most of all he doesn’t ever want to be outsmarted. That’s why he has put so much thought into this thing.
So 120s… let’s say a player who has come in exceptionally fit has racked up 30 points going into 120s. She only needs to make the 18 second standard twice to be given a passing grade for the entire fitness testing franchise. A clever player in that situation will probably bust it and go all out on the first repetition because that’s when she’s the freshest. She’ll hit her 18 second mark and now she’s just one point shy of passing. So being clever, she may do the next three reps at a glorified jog, not come close to the 18 second benchmark, and use these reps to catch her breath. After the 4th rep there’s an extra 30 seconds of rest, so now our clever player is as rested as she can hope to be so she’ll go full steam for the 5th rep, make her 18 second time, and just like that, she’s passed preseason fitness testing. Steve’s introduction of the negative points safeguards against that.
Personally I don’t mind a player who has proven herself over three tests getting a free pass on the fourth. It’s like being in high school and doing well enough over the semester to be exempt from the final exam. But I like Steve’s way, too. It’s all about work ethic. And there's an intrinsic value to that. Quite honestly, I’m so awed by the calculus of it that I’m just proud to know the guy who created the system.
Anyway, preseason isn’t just fitness, although that’s about all the players will remember ten years down the road. There’s also the part where we’re on the field playing soccer. That’s the fun part.
It’s pretty cool coming to UGA. The players are talented and friendly and hungry for championships. Much to my surprise, they are also very open to coaching from the new guys. The defenders have been very open-minded about implementing a new philosophy which makes my life a lot more enjoyable. Because that’s my responsibility first and foremost… designing our defense.
I love that Steve trusts me with the defenders. He doesn’t micromanage me. He just wants me to give him a group of defenders that will keep the ball out of our net. As long as I do that, he’s content to let me do my thing. If there's something he doesn't like, he'll let me know and we'll tweak it, but other than that I get almost total autonomy. It's a dream set up for me. It’s a responsibility I love and that I take very seriously. When the boss trusts you enough to give you an important job, you don’t want to let him down. So I put in the work.
I wrote a manual for our defenders that outlines what our philosophies will be and illustrates our shape in different situations. Occasionally I give them quizzes to make sure they are doing their homework, and so far the one thing I can assure you of is that the girls have done their reading. That in and of itself has been pretty impressive and shows how much this season means to them. They are buying into what we are teaching, and that’s a testament to their drive to take this program to new heights.
It’s funny, trying to organize an entire defense from scratch in two and a half weeks. There’s so much to cover that it can seem overwhelming to be the one in charge of teaching. But the way the players have bought into it, and the way they have applied what’s been taught, it’s really something to behold.
We had our Red/Black game on Friday night, and the way our defense was so disorganized kept me up most of the night. But we hadn’t yet touched on any big picture stuff. We started that today and the progress we made in a single day was pretty astonishing. At least it gave me reason to hope. By the way… the Red/Black game featured one of the best free kicks you’ll ever see. And you can see it at www.georgiadogs.com/sports/w-soccer/geo-w-soccer-body.html
Okay, one last thing before I get under the sheets. On Saturday we had a couple of sports psychologists from IMG Academy spend the day with the team. They did an awesome job and put the girls through some exercises that were absolutely hysterical, but also taught great lessons about teamwork and trust. After dinner the final meeting was about goal-setting. Now I’m not about to betray the sanctity of what goes on in the Bulldog locker room, but I will tell you this: our duck is taking on a life of its own.
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