Category Archives: Character

Some Times it is all about Haley Anne

I’m putting this moment on paper because Haley Anne had an awesome weekend. Yesterday, in particular was both great and tough. And, one moment is pivotal (literally), and forever emblazoned in my minds-eye.

Even though she is only fourteen Haley Anne has has a great history of U16 play. She is often called-up to support her older “sisters”. In fact, Shockers have always been called-up and exceeded expectations. Christy Tovar is another great example.

In any event, Haley Anne was playing against the U16 UFA Rockets Sunday. Their intrepid and storied coach, Allison Miner, always bring a first-class team to the pitch. Yesterday, as a Defender, Haley Anne had three assists on goals. She was ON FIRE. Show OWNED the middle. She seemed HUGE.

There was a melee in the middle (the Rockets are very skilled at ball-play in tight quarters; almost like a knife-fight). The ball came off a Rocket players head and took an odd bounce towards our box. Haley Anne did the most unlikely and athletic pirouette I can imagine, her body strangely contorted. She caught the ball square with her odd boot and sent it hurtling up-pitch. It landed in the OTHER box. Our right-side Stryker Esmerelda one-touched it and blasted it behind the hapless Keeper for our 9th goal. There was a gasp from the crowd because the play was so unexpected and fantastic. But, I knew instantly Haley Anne was hurt. She was hands on hips, unable to move, and fighting back tears.

We quickly pulled her off the pitch. It was clearly bad enough that her little sissy Emma Jo (U10 Shockers Nation, see two posts ) rushed right over and sat herself right next to Haley Anne in mute support.

Joanne is taking her to a clinic this morning. Fingers crossed. She’s tough and determined.

She’s had such a tough year. First the spider bite at the Kennesaw Cup in the Fall. But, she fought through all that pain and sideline and helped lead her U14 Shockers to both a Kohls Cup and a UFA Cup. Then she lost half of the Spring season because of the issues with cysts. She was just coming back into form – and, perhaps her best yet.

Please don’t feel sorry for us. I’ll submit the Cork’s have had a “Chinese interesting” year. But, we are fully aware of how blessed we are. That certainly includes being surrounded by families like you. Cork’s have a knack for being where the action is. Never count us out.

A lot of people read this and my other blogs. I’m hoping you will lift Haley Anne up and will any injury away. The heaviness of her heart (and mine) aside, she has the first round of State Cup tournament play next weekend. She does not desrve to be denied that.

Coach Brian

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That’s Shocker Ball!

There were a lot of Shockers – both in name, as well as spirit on the pitch that day. All of them hearty and ferocious.

That, is Shocker Ball!

Thank you Haley Anne.

Coach Brian (Daddy)

Fall 2010 Captains

I’ve named Mallory Charlton and Grace Guthrie as Captains of the U16 squad and Haley Anne Cork and Gracie Razo as Captains for the U14 squad for this season.

Traditionally Captains are picked less for star status and more so for leadership qualities. This can include team spirit and a willingness to do what ever is best for the team.

I had originally looked at Lindsay Wojcik to lead us. Without question, Lindsay was the most improved player across Shockers Nation over the past two years (four seasons). However, when Lindsay moved on it created an opportunity for other players to step up as emerging leaders.

In this case, Grace has shouldered the responsibility of learning the Keeper position  under “trial-by-fire”, and contributing vitally as a utility player. Mallory has more talent than she realizes, and is an easy threat with fiendish guile and smart passing at the top of the box. A willingness, on both their parts, to lead by example has boundless value to a team that is often in transition and needs a “can do” attitude more than anything else to be successful.

Of course Haley Anne is my daughter. But, that aside, she has proven a formidable defender for her teams since she was nine years old playing up at U12. She is relentless and can score as well. Haley Anne won’t miss a practice – even when she was spider bit (that was tough), and even goes out of her way to support the U16 squad at away matches. She leads by example on and off the pitch. Gracie Razo is one of those quiet leaders that is also a spiritual guide on our vaunted defense (that only allowed seven goals against last season) shuts down strykers, and lets her actions speak volumes over words.

Coach Brian

Mars Twitchell

Shockers Nation:

Mars Twitchell is out for the season with what appears to be an injured ACL. An MRI is pending. So, stay tuned.

Mars went down Saturday fighting the ball towards the net against the GFC Badgers.

I called Mars this evening to check in with her. The first thing she said to me was: “I’ve been thinking twenty ways I could have prevented this from happening”. She took a breath and added: “Like maybe a pull-back”.

That’s Mars. Always fighting and ready.

For the record, Mars is the all-time leading “shooter” for Shockers Nation with 72 goals.

Coach Brian

the virtuous shockers Mom

The telling of the tale will be fodder, not doubt, for the robust legacy of our Shockers Nation.

So…

I’ll likely send out a more detailed email tomorrow morning summarizing the ferocious match schedule we have this weekend (five matches across both days between the two squads). But, in the mean time, I need to correct a blunder I made just yesterday (although, it might have been Tuesday).

To wit…

Background:

Michelle Chamblee (U14 Shockers Leah’s Mom) offered the following:

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else on Mother’s Day, than by being at my daughter’s soccer games.  It reminds me just how blessed I am to be a mother:)  I hope everyone else feels that way for their Mother’s Day also.  Can’t wait til the fun weekend!! – Michelle”

Then, we had the critically important news from Allison Crawford (U14 Shocker AC’s Mom) letting us know they’ve cancelled plans to visit AC’s Grandmother (who is also having surgery) in Alabama for Mother’s Day. They did this to make sure AC was shoulder-to-shoulder with her teammates this weekend for, what might be, the two most critical matches of the U14 regular season.

I am, and sincerely so, both moved, and deeply impressed by the dedication our Shockers Nation evidences daily.

My blunder, you ask?

During the email exchanges between Allison, Patty, Chris and myself, I actually (with naught but gravitas admit it’s true) tasked Allison and Patty with arranging the meals between the U14 Shockers 3pm and 7pm matches… I suggested pizza. I assure you, my lack of sensitivity brings me to my knees with the fervent hope I’m forgiven.

The Solution:

My only hope for redemption might lay within the understanding hands of my fellow Shockers Dads, of whom I beseech succor. Gentlemen, you must rally to the Shockers Mom’s, the players, and myself, and coordinate our nutritional solutions Sunday. We have the two matches… The first at 3pm, the other at 7pm – both at Georgia FC. We have roughly 2 1/2 hours between the matches. The repast must be “smart food”. I’m sure you understand.

So…. Goodly men, all – whom may I point to as a leader for this august effort?

Coach Brian

Behind the scenes… Yet another exchange between the contrite Coach Brian and certain hearty and ferocious Shockers Moms:

You know… I meant what I wrote; and Chris, in his own way, echoed our (that collective “our” reflecting the ferocious will of Patty, as well) joint philosophy around family, character – and, all the things that comprise: “the stuff of life”.

Soccer offers its drama, opportunities for comaraderie, and reflections of the epic…

But, what about your own heart, and that of young AC? Does your Mother need you there?

As passionate as I am about the “beautiful game”, and our children’s role in the representation of it, the drawing of a quiet breath and the focus on family is understood in relation to it’s importance.

My attempt at flowery language aside – are you sure?

I’ll gladly set aside, and lose any match, for any opportunity to teach a lesson around priorities. I value soccer, but I love your family so much more.

I am grateful to all of you regardless of where providence finds you Saturday.

By the way… A quote from Michelle Chamblee (Leah’s Mom): “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else on Mother’s Day, than by being at my daughter’s soccer games.  It reminds me just how blessed I am to be a mother:)  I hope everyone else feels that way for their Mother’s Day also.  Can’t wait til the fun weekend!! – Michelle”

There’s a perspective, eh. Not a day goes by that I can barely comprehend how blessed I am by our small (albeit hearty and ferocious) Shockers Nation community.

Coach Brian


another Mary’s Call to action

Mary Guthrie is the Mother of two of my Shockers (Claire and Grace).

She is also a reader of this Blog, and apparently found a form of stimulation in one of my recent posts: from whence our Inspiration, and, a co-worker.

Divine afflatus /1 certainly abounds. Mary’s own story is rather moving – and, pretty great – especially when you see how terrific her daughters are turning out.

This story is not mine, other than for the telling, as it yet, continues to unfold. But, I will participate, as are many of our fellow Shockers. And, so, as you read this, I’ll hope you will feel free to contact Mary, and add a bag.

In any event, here’s the how all of this started…

“Dear Shocker families,

Karen, my co-worker, has a daughter who is a first year fifth grade teacher at a school south of Atlanta. Karen often shares her daughter’s sweet and funny stories about her rookie year teaching experiences. Yesterday, she told me a disturbing story I will share with you.

Many of the children at Tessa’s (Karen’s daughter) school are living at or below the poverty level. A little girl in Tessa’s class told her she had hoped for, but didn’t get, a matched pair of shoes for Christmas. Tessa looked at the girl’s feet and sure enough, she was wearing mismatched shoes. One of them was held together with duct tape! Later in the day, Tessa took a moment to look around the room. While none of the other children were wearing mismatched duct-taped shoes, many were wearing clothes and shoes that were too small and very worn.

As Karen was telling this story, I thought of my daughters’ drawers and closets overflowing with an abundance of clothes and shoes. Last night, they gathered the clothes and shoes (including size 7 never-worn sneakers for the little girl with the mismatched shoes) they have outgrown or don’t wear to give to the children in Tessa’s class. (The girls didn’t grumble when I sent them to their rooms to purge their closets. They even cheerfully folded the clothes and put them in the bag nicely! Wow! Knowing where the clothes and shoes were going seemed to inspire them.)

If your children have outgrown any of their clothes or shoes, the children at Tessa’s school could really use them. Grace, Claire, and I would be happy to pick them up and bring them to Karen who will deliver them to Tessa.

Thank you, Mary Guthrie”

You can reach Mary via email at: Mary Guthrie mkguthrie@comcast.net.

NOTE: I’ll not add her cellular telephone number because we don’t wanting you to text her (especially as she might be driving). To make the best sense of that plea, read: texting and driving to death.

Meanwhile, here’s am update to round-out this tale:

“Hi Brian,

Have you been traveling around Alpharetta picking up donations instead of teaching the Chinese to golf?

My daughter Hanna has a volleyballl tournament in Chattanooga Saturday. I will be back Sunday. Let me know if you have donations for the little Jackson Elementary (Butts Co., GA) students. I can collect on Sunday.

Thanks, Mary”

FYI- The first bags of donations have already been delivered. Tessa (the teacher) is busy distributing to happy kids! LOTS of Shockers are getting bags together, too.”

Go shockers. Who wants the ball?

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Coach Brian

1/ A strong creative impulse, especially as a result of divine inspiration.

little things with big impact

The great stories from the Athens Finale tournament are numerous. And, they will be chronicled, as best I am able here, over time – and, elsewhere.

I’ve coached Michelle Higgins since she was eleven. She was on my first Shocker team and created a lot of learning opportunities for me as a coach.

I think Michelle gave me three of her best matches this weekend.

It was the little things. She seemed to hustle more than usual, and was engaged around the ball. She also took two hard ball shots to the head and stuck with it. When I was on the pitch in the last match looking after Lindsay (“I’m okay… GAME ON”), I had an opportunity to take a quick look at Michelle (I wanted to see her eyes after the last shot she took). She had tears, but she gave me a brave nod.

All I could do was give her a kiss on the top of her head, and feel more pride than I could ever convey.

Thanks Michelle.

Coach Brian

Tuesday’s Practice

Shockers Nation:

Last nights practice was one of those times that makes being a coach extra fun and interesting.

It was like a family reunion. The girls had not been together en masse for almost two weeks. And, they were clearly delighted to be together. There was a great deal of laughter, and catching up. The comraderie is easy and comfortable. Generally, there was also a lot of excitement over the trip to Athens, and a sense of purpose.

We won’t be having practice tonight, and obviously because of the cold rain. The hoped for practice tomorrow are diminishing by the hour. Anticipating this, I had urged the girls to give me their best last night. I was admittedly concerned that the U14 squad may have lost a step being out of action for about ten days. And, the U16 squad was coming off their dramatic ASA Cup victory – and, it can be difficult to reorient after an event like that. So, we had only two hours to get thirty-three players mission ready with the new elements getting up-to-speed with our style-of-play. We actually went almost twenty five minutes over schedule. But, they could have gone on for another two hours in good cheer. I deeply appreciate the patience of the faithful Shockers parents who stood bravely in the chilled air (with smiles for the most part I should add).

I realize that, year-over-year, this has become a hallmark of being a Shocker – and, this includes the families. The girls genuinely care for, and about, one another. Grace Gutherie can refer to her new soccer ball as “like Battlestar Gallactica”, and the girls completely understand in a bemused and loving manner. When KC needs to decipher and verbally reprocess one of my observations, the team stands by patiently and often nodding approval. And, of course there are endless questions and opinions, in the post practice huddle, around what represents “dairy” (which is to be consumed in limited portions between now and Sunday). Shockers Nation is something they want, and enjoy being part of. It’s healthy, and they all understand that they are improving as athletes, both in terms of individual performance, and as a team, as well.

We had five of the six new players that will be joining us in Athens (across both squads), three of who will be joining us full-time in the Spring. I started out the practice with a warning that I yell a lot, but usually with a smile on my face. This elicited a lot of enthusiasm. And, in typical Shockers fashion, the new girls dialed right in. We could tell everyone was comfortable within the first twenty minutes (even though most teams are not accustomed to the running and drill work we start each practice with). The “Aggression Drill” can be intimidating. But, I can tell you that is where the girls sort out what they are made of, and where they improve quickest. They have no choice because everyone is watching – and, being supportive.

Last night was also quite unique in that we had four Dads with players on the Athens squads who all happen to be coaches in our league. I’ll stand firm in the belief that they (we) had as much fun as the girls. And, we clearly agree there’s not been a finer group (in terms of athleticism, spirit and citizenship) in conceivable memory.

As we wrapped up with the announcement we hope to have a team dinner and meeting Friday night the girls were fully charged. As we drew together, the new girls shoulder-to-shoulder with their new teammates, our cheers of: “Who Are we?” (Shockers!!!) “What Do We Want?” (The Ball!!!) And, “One-Two-Three, WE ARE SHOCKERS” echoed joyfully and fiercely across Central Park.

Athens isn’t going to be easy. The competition will be fierce. The weather will change a few times over the weekend. But, we are trained, fit and ready. And, truly so.

Please coordinate with Patty to make sure we know how each player is getting to Athens (does anyone need a ride?), where they will or want to stay. Bunking overnight Friday is probably a very good idea (and, cellular telephones will be handed over to Patty). Make sure we have your cellular number.

I’ll thank each family, again for trusting me with your daughters. And, it’s really me that’s the most inspired.

Coach Brian

2009 ASA Cup Summary: Proving our fortitude and demonstrating our nerve

Much of this story, of course, began last Fall.

Christy, Haley Anne, and Hannah E. were coming off an undefeated U12 season at ASA. Christy and Haley Anne were invited to play-up for the struggling U14 Blast in the ASA Cup. This gave Christy and Haley Anne an opportunity to rejoin Shockers alum AC with whom they had won the U12 Extreme Cup the prior Spring. Coach Chris and I Observed that patch-work team play together (three draws), and got to know some of the parents. And, we saw great promise.

Drama (and, that is certainly an understatement) was afoot as Chris and I decided to break from ASA, and pull the core of our U12 team up early into U14. We merged with that Blast squad, regrouped with Mars and Hannah D., and built a team around a focused goal of going to the Spring State Cup.

That U14 team exceeded all expectations, and the story is chronicled on this team blogsite at.

I feel the stage was set, in epic fashion, as we returned to ASA this past weekend for the ASA Cup.

With a pair of key defenders injured (Claire and Loren) and others expected to be on holiday, we knew our U16 Shockers were going to be low on reserves. I had not really thought about it (and, truthfully so) until we arrived at The Polo Grounds (with my heart, admittedly, in my throat), but Christy and Haley Anne (with their hearty and ferocious U14 teammate Rachel) were once again joining an older squad to lend support. The vital difference this year was a more than reasonable expectation that we could win a Cup (and, coach Brian might realize a promise he made to the Claire and Grace the prior year).

Match One Saturday U16 Shockers vs. ASA Xplosion

In the very first match Saturday, under perfect condition to include cobalt blue skies, we faced ASA Xplosion. This is a hand-picked team of select players, many of whom have played together for over four years, dropped into the Rec divisions with the specific mission to win a State Cup in the coming Spring. The team is trained more often than not by Jeff Salas, one of the ASA directors who has a daughter on the squad. They were undefeated through the Fall season. We are told they averaged six goals per match against all opponents, and often won by shut-out, with only four goals scored against them in the regular season.

That was precisely the test I wanted, as we are really only now peaking, coming into our own, and preparing for Athens.

The Xplosion defense lived up to their training. Our vaunted Shockers attack had much fewer shots on goal than usual. But, we pressed hard, passed well, with very good communication, and saw the ball often on their end of the pitch. At roughly the 20th minute in the first half, Christy found herself facing a rebounded ball, spinning off a cross from Shelby, and placed it neatly into the back of the Xplosion net. I can look back on that match now and understand that we should have then changed our lineup to keep Xplosion on their heels. However, our intensity never let up. Both sides fought hard and passed well. We’ll offer no excuses. But, our defense that day was just getting accustomed to the lineup and the addition of Haley Anne. We had some miscommunication, and the very experienced Xplosion were able to convert on two goals. The final score was 2 to 1 in favor of Xplosion, but our Shockers were clearly under their skin.

And, we had a terrific opportunity on our hands (if not our boots).

I took the position that we had a dramatic opportunity to demonstrate only great character, come off this tough loss, and fight our way into the finals to face the Xplosion for a rematch.

Match Two Saturday U16 Shockers vs. AFU Cheetahs

That thinking and objective took us to our second match of the day and against league rivals AFU Cheetahs. And, of course, there would be a brilliant twist!

We had already beaten Cheetahs 3 to 2 earlier in the season; and, ironically, in the driving rain. Our 2nd regular season match had been rained out and needed to be rescheduled. We needed the points to overtake Cheetahs sister team Angels for the league championship. I had suggested to the Cheetah coach that we use the tournament match to decide the league tally. So, our second match of the tournament had both a Cup and a League championship on the line (I did not mention this to our Shockers even though several parents knew).

Cheetahs had just beaten the ASA Rockets 1 to 0 earlier in the day, and were well positioned to advance. All they had to do was get past us for the finals. To put matters into perspective, Cheetahs had played in the finals at Kohls Cup the prior weekend.

I’ll submit to you, and right now, that every Shocker on the pitch brought both their heart and their best boots to that match. The Cheetahs midfield and defense are stubborn and skilled. The ball failed to bounce in any one teams favor. Both sides broke the others fast breaks and used the sidelines like professionals found at the World Cup level. Lauren came up with several key saves (including a heart-stopping melee right in front of our net). Our defense were pulling themselves together under the leadership of Megan while Lindsay was playing as though possessed. Haley Anne was getting used to the speed-of-play at the U16 level and offered up several timely transition kicks. Although I think it might have been Grace that frustrated the Cheetahs Forwards the most, I’ll pick Kelsie’s Stopper play as the most dominating. As we transitioned the ball, Michelle demonstrated some very savvy passing. However, it was the gritty play of U14 reserve Rachel and always reliable KC that kept the ball moving in the right direction. Those two combined with the exceptional fighting and dribbling skills of Grayce and Shelby literally carried the day. In the first half Shelby found a brilliant cross from the right and laid the ball cleanly past the Cheetah Keeper. And, it was KC’s opportunistic BIG SHOT and score (because she FINALLY played up to the box) from thirty meters out that kept the momentum in our favor. It should be noted that the last five minutes of that match were likely the longest of my coaching (or playing). That score was 2 to 1 in favor of Shockers giving us the advantage over Cheetahs in the standings and one match away from the finals. It also put us five points over AFU Angels for the league championship – meaning that both our Shockers teams ended the regular season as respective league champions with a combined record of 17-1-2 (more about that later in a separate post).

Afterwards, walking off the pitch with Grace Guthrie, I had the opportunity to look her in the eye, and remind her that she always seems to step up and bring her best play when we need her most.

Match Three Sunday U16 Shockers vs. ASA Rockets

Sunday morning broke both cold and wet. And, our Shockers appeared to hardly notice. They showed up at ASA’s Polo Grounds all grins, and knowing what they had to do with the tournament “satisfied” as opposed to “pleased”.

The Rockets coach approached me shortly before kick-off with a chuckle. He ruefully advised me that we had clearly rattled their sister team Xplosion. The players had been texting and Facebooking beseeching Rockets to take “those Shockers” out of the final. “We knew you guys were good but wow. No one is happy here”.

The Rockets had already fallen to Xplosion 5 to 0 and Cheetahs 1 to 0. So, they had an opportunity to play the spoliers and support a Club sister team. And, many of those Rockets are good fighters. However, with Xplosion and Cheetah players haplessly watching more of our match from their sidelines than their own our Shockers may have played one of the most balanced and aggressive efforts I’ve ever seem them muster. We certainly played our typical “Shocker Ball” keeping the play on the Rockets side of the pitch over 85% of the match. Our passing was text book, the confidence supreme. Our scoring onslaught started in the first minute with Grayce’s sliding out of the back, but not before cutting the angle and hammering a jaw-dropping shot across the box into the far corner of the Rocket net. The Rocket coach summed it up nicely with “wow”. And, we could hear Salas behind us (coaching the Xplosion) adding a: “you have to watch her”! Shelby’s selfless passing was relentless. By the end of the match, we had scored eight goals (although the refs had it tallied officially at nine). Grayce had a hat-trick, and over the course of the match saw Michelle, Shelby, KC and Christy add to the scoring tally. The final official score was 9 to 1 and the U16 Shockers were in the finals and ready to face Xplosion for the Cup.

This promised to be a barn-burner. Yes it did!

Tournament Finals Sunday U16 Shockers vs. ASA Xplosion

I was, admittedly, in high spirits as I approached the Polo Grounds fields just after 2:10. Then I got the news… To keep this part of the story short, the “tournament director” had made the arbitrary decision to end all finals with penalty kicks as opposed to a complete match. Oddly, even though Patty and I were registered in the system, neither of us received the text messages announcing this decision.

In any event, one of my first thoughts was actually recalling that Grayce’s Dad, Regan, had reminded me two weeks earlier that Grayce was a very talented Goal Keeper. I made up my mind even before I called Coach Chris and Patty with the news. I knew that Xplosion and their coaches had watched our usual (and very successful) Keeper Lauren in action, and knew their penalty kick trained shooters had good odds. But, they had no idea about Grayce. And, I wanted Lauren focused as one of my shooters. I knew she would come through for us if we had her placed in the lineup properly. I started making calls to Shocker parents and making fast decisions. I knew who my shooters were. But, I also understood, in my heart and gut, who would get the job done under heart-pounding, adrenaline-drenched pressure. I walked up to Grayce with the news. In typical fashion, her first concern was for her teammate Lauren. I explained the strategy of surprise, and our need to for Lauren to focus on shooting, and Grayce decided that it would be fun! Coach Bill herded the team over to a far goal and started getting them warmed up. Within minutes Grayce was limbered up and all grins while inspiring mounting confidence from her VERY nervous, but determined, teammates.

As I pulled the team together I explained the shoot-out rules, sequence, and what to expect. I told them I felt they had earned this opportunity, and it was a day they would long remember – and, likely used as a comparison for many significant events in their lives. It was less about skill, and more so luck. Often a crap-shoot. Breathe, don’t make eye contact with the Keeper. No big run ups. Shoot for a corner. As Chris watched them intently near the net looking for a an opportunity for a quick correction, I took a moment to look at them as they chattered nervously amongst themselves. I’m not sure why, but I was surprised to see confidence, in me, in their eyes. This was not about me, mind you. But, they were listening to what I was saying. And, they understood – especially the part about not making eye contact with the Keeper. And, so I knew. We had a Cup waiting for us. We only needed to finish well.

Our players, parents, families and supporters, Shockers Nation all, were standing closely together when the ref called for coaches and captains. Upon the invitation form the head ref, we called numbers and it was decided that we would take the first shot. Little did the opposing goalie realize but this is what I wanted. I knew clear-eyed Shelby would stride purposefully up to that ball, toe it, step back – and, nail it home.

And, she did that very thing.

Our lead shooters were Shelby, Christy, Lauren, Kelsie and Grayce. Megan, Michelle and KC would follow. I stood slightly away from the group watching how the other Keeper positioned herself and how the Xplosion shooters approached the ball in terms of confidence and form. I tied my decision about which shooter to use and in which sequence, shooter-by-shooter, to what I saw happening as the drama played itself out. I felt I knew who might miss but also who would then compensate. We hit six out of eight and that is very good. It might be Megan’s shot I’ll remember the most vividly. Shoulders squared, I imagined that grim smile played across her face. Grayce also came up with two big saves. And, that is HUGE. The entire time she was in the net she had a smile on hr face. I kept looking at her thinking she was having the time of her life. I was also thinking about her Dad, all the Dad’s (and, of course Mom’s), in fact, and what a terrific organization we have. I felt grounded to the pitch as the ref turned to me, pointed, and sounded his whistle.

You can also read the summary online at: CummingHome.com.

That’s a tough way to win a tournament. But, we earned the right to prove our fortitude, and demonstrate our nerve.

I held back wanting to savor the moment and watch the team rush Grayce, memorizing each and every (albeit dazed) smile in those faces.

I found Haley Anne first. And, then each of my Shockers. It was our day. It was a cold one to be sure. But, it was also brilliant, none the less.

A note from Mary Guthrie:

“…Sunday’s game was equally thrilling. It seemed like it went on forever. Finally, I asked the line judge how much time was left. He chuckled and said, “A long time. 15 minutes.” He then asked if we would be in the finals. I told him we hoped to be and explained we lost the first game on Saturday to the green team. “Wow. I can’t believe anyone could beat your team.”  A few minutes later he continued, “I mean, this ASA team really isn’t that bad. They can play soccer. But, your team is just blowing them away.”  A few minutes later, he said again, “This team is really good, every one of them. They are all really good.”   I saw him again after the penalty kick championship. He congratulated me. (When I recounted the line judge story at home, Grace and Claire found this very funny. (“You didn’t even play, mom. Why did he congratulate you?”) As the Shockers were having their picture taken in the net, he turned to the official he was standing with and described the morning game. “You wouldn’t believe how good this team is…”.

[]

We’ve come so far. But, I feel like we are only, and really, just coming into our own. We have Athens in two weeks. And, if we can keep these teams together. And, I pray we do, we go to the State Cup in the Spring. And, I wonder if that’s it for me.

For any player that still wants a tournament t-shirt, we have the distributor on standby for the order. Please let me and Patty know ASAP.

I hope to see as many Shockers at practice as possible Wednesday. We have a lot of work to do as we march, Shockers Nation all, on Athens.

Coach Brian

The Plan: Action 32 – Exactly

It’s all coming together.

Our girls are learning the difference between a strategy and philosophy.

And, what happens when they come together with passion and team work.

Coach Brian

Fusion U14 Shockers Lead League


2009 Fall Kohls Cup

Shockers Nation:

I’ll consider this past weekends Kohls Cup tournament naught less than a worthy success. The U16 Shockers pulled through, demonstrating a lot of character, while up against some very mature and tough teams. We had our own destiny in our collective hands each and every match.  And, we were an odd ball bounce away, in two matches, from realizing an appearance in the finals. I think we have a very good idea of what to work on this week during practice.

My favorite memory will be Mallory actually out-sprinting a defender for the ball, pulling ahead and blasting a decisive shot past the Keeper in the second match on Saturday. That can only be equaled by the Shockers pulling it together in the final minutes of the third match and scoring for the equalizer. I believe it was an assist from Michelle to Shelby, but that was a team goal, and tears well up in my eyes each time I think about it (that’s with pride, by the way).

We had AC and Rachel guest playing up from the U14 Shockers. They were vital contributors, and a testament to how well our style-of-play allows for “snap-in” substitutions.

Below I’ll share with you all a note from Mary Guthrie that clearly underscore the spirit from the tournament…

“Brian,

As we cheered on the sidelines Sunday morning, a parent from the other team came over to talk to a few of us. “Those girls are scary.” he said. At that moment, Grayce and Rachel were running down the sidelines in front of us. Grayce having taken a precision pass from Megan and expertly passing off to Rachel- befuddling our opponents with skill and relentless determination.

I looked down the row of Shocker parents and family members (each player represented, I believe) all standing and cheering, and we were all so proud of the team. It was incredible to watch. And then  Michelle fed a perfect ball to Shelby, and she drilled in the tying goal. The stands went crazy.

I agree, I consider the tournament a success.

I cannot wait to see them play again.

Thank you Brian.

Mary”

As many of you know Christy and Mars were invited to play for the U14 Peachtree Booster Breakers. And, Caroline responded to a last-minute call from a desperate Fusion Lightning team that were facing a tournament appearance with no subs. Fusion Coach Mark Kempter was very clear that Caroline played a big role in keeping them in all three matches with dignity.

I believe Christy led the Booster Breakers in scoring (in fact, she might have lead the tournament). In a tough, bruising finals (that had two Booster Breakers carried off the pitch) against Henry County Jaguars, it was Mars’ goal that put Booster Breakers into over time play, and then penalty kicks. And, then, with the score at 3 all, it was Christy that won the match with a (toe-driven) side-winder past the Henry County Keeper. By all accounts, Coach Chris, supporting the Booster Breakers coach on the side-lines, had a firm hand in influencing the Booster Breaker style-of-play.

Thusly, Shockers were well represented at that tournament.

Coach Brian

being pleased or being satisfied

Wednesday night at practice, with some ill-advised shenanigans afoot, I found myself relating a story to our Shockers about “being pleased or being satisfied”.

I think most of them will remember the moment. If not the words, well, perhaps the catch in my voice – hopefully my heart, certainly.

We have a lot of soccer ahead of us this season. And, our Shockers collectively, have a lot of life to prepare for.

I’ve asked them to start asking themselves that simple extrapolitive question: “If I’m pleased, am I satisfied?”

I’ll always hope the answer is no. But, their tests, realized daily will forge that view of the world. I do hope they think of me in those moments. My Grandad called it: “remembering the face of my father”. Great story and parable for another time.

The point of this being, when they do anything, are they willing to ask the most of themselves, and those around them. My Grandad also used to say: “if you must judge a man do it by those around him”. When Shockers come to practice I want focus and best efforts. I added that winning and losing matches is important and fun. But, I care more about the look on their faces and the feelings in their hearts after the match – regardless of which way the ball bounces. If they can look one to the other, and know they did their best, truly and sincerely, their best, I will be both pleased AND satisfied with them.

By the way… I also challenged them with the question: “What is the difference between philosophy and strategy”. And, I’m quite curious over who comes back with an answer, where the information came from, and what it inspires going forward.

Coach Brian

Leadership by Example

Shockers Nation:

No practice tonight. I realize this is obvious. But, I’ll not take a chance of having an eager Shocker standing in the rain forlornly awaiting her coach.

Some thoughts…

We’re having another terrific season.

With a total of nine matches played between the U14 and U16 Shockers, we have a combined and undefeated record of 8-1-0. Along the way we’ve scored an astonishing fifty seven goals (57) with only eleven scored (11) against us. Sunday, the U14 Shockers broke their single game scoring record with a defeat of NSA Beat 13 to 0. Fatherly bias aside, we pushed Haley Anne up top Sunday, and she scored twice with brilliant crosses from Mars (and, I think an assist from Hannah E.). This past weekend both squads recorded shutouts, and we still pulled our starting keepers out of the nets. This means we are equally formidable on both sides of the pitch.

But, maybe the best part is we’re all aware of the incredible teamwork being demonstrated on the pitch by both squads. The communication is fantastic – as is the unselfish passing and backup. This past weekend our Defenders were pushing up at the MIDLINE and dominating our opponents. All the players, on both squads, have adopted our style of play, and are thriving under it.

That is “Shocker Ball”.

This finds at the season midpoint. We have quite a few matches ahead of us – and, some tournaments in planning. The objective going forward will be to keep our play fresh and fun. We need to keep pushing ourselves, and continue learning.

Going forward, fitness will remain a key fixture of our training. But, we’ll be adding an emphasis on tactical elements of the game to include: Corner Kicks (and, defending against them), Goal Kicks (to create opportunities), Throw-in’s, and using the sidelines for both attacking and defending.

We have a few bruises, some sore ankles, a broken clavicle, and at least one fever that I know of to nurse. Let’s stay hydrated. Use ice and heat on everything. Do it for an our every night on ANYTHING that is sore (it’s worth the effort, trust me – and, I know you all do).

Thanks for having had the foresight to give life (and, certainly the good fortune) to your daughters. And, thank you for trusting me with them.

Let’s keep pressing, shall we? And, we’ll do it with leadership by example.

Coach Brian

leadership

Because the message clearly speaks for itself, I’ll add naught to this post but the original email from AC’s (our U14 Captain) Mom:

“Coach Brian,

I will not be at the game tomorrow because I am going to Alabama for a HUGE Event that we have in our hometown each year. I wanted you to know that I gave AC the choice of going with me (b/c she LOVES this event) or staying to play soccer.  She told me last night she felt that staying and meeting her obligation to her team (not in those exact words) was what she should do..  I was disappointed that she didn’t want to go with me, but excited that she feels so strongly about her team!

Allison”

character defined

So… Winning is great. Shockers tend to do that.

We call it Shocker Ball.

Before the match I advised this hearty and ferocious U16 crew that certainly Shockers have a legacy and a history of U12 and U14 winning. But this was their team, and a chapter in the history book was for their own making.

The Fusion Fury gave us five penalties. Our Shockers gave up none. Along the way, we put up a decisive nine (9) to three (3) victory that allowed for a rousing start to our 2009 Fall campaign.

Fair and even play with integrity, character and good sportsmanship.

Over all, and simply put, our offense was dominating. We had twenty nine (29) shots on goal. Five players scored. We controlled the Midfield, always a key to our historical success. Our untried Defense was clearly unsettled in the first half. And, this allowed for three fast breaks, and three goals against us. However, there was no bickering. No hands-on-hips. The defense rallied one-to-the-other, and shut the Fury out in the 2nd half.

That was an awesome way to get the season started.

However, at least from a coaching standpoint, certainly that would be mine – and, based upon what I saw in the eyes this afternoon of our Shockers – winning with courage, integrity and character offers naught but the greatest satisfaction.

This squad has some real characters. It was hot, and they got tired from wearing the Fury defense down with one relentless attack after the other. They played with all their hearts this afternoon, and put on an astounding display of grit and determination (not to mention canny passing and solid communication). Along the way, they also showed a touch of class and brought home the win with grand style and a total dissplay of team work and great sportsmanship. As the 2nd half wore on they reminded their coach that we had promised to pull out Keeper forward for some field minutes. And, by the way (with our reserve Keeper confidently in place – something new for Shocker Nation), she did just that, and was brilliant.

NOTE: They also learned going into the 2nd half why we run so much before and into the early part of the season! The Fury were hands-on-knees while we had begun to experiment, with a will and grim intent, different midfield rotations.

Fall 2009 ShockersWe took our team picture in front of the net where we scored six of our nine goals. Our Shockers stood tall and close together. A new team forged with a common goal and a sense of destiny that builds on our Shocker Nation foundation, and offers great promise for the future.

It’s in their eyes now. They can win. There is that. But they can be champions in anything they do. and, they will remember this day… The first day they, together, played Shocker Ball!

And, that day, Shocker Nation, was ours.

Coach Brian

our daughters our Shockers

What is it about our daughters?

We look at them in all their varying shapes, sizes and attitudes – and, see princesses.

Mixed with that is the uneasy realization that we have to prepare them for a world that will often hurt them while they work tirelessly (we expect) to help make it a better place.

With that perspective in mind perhaps you come to understand when I ask them, almost daily, whether they be “silly little kittens” or “mighty tigers”.

I understand that opposing teams start matches using this against our Shockers in a derisive manner. But, by matches end, those other teams are typically hands-on-knees and understand that we are bold and fearless – and mighty tigers all.

I often find myself looking at parents and saying things like: “Have I thanked you for having AC?”. Of course that is because they likely did something great on the pitch. But, it’s also often the result of something I saw in them as a growing person. They may not be ready to espound Jeffersonian ideals just yet. But, they exhibit ever more abundant positive qualities like compassion, fairness – and, fearlessness. A balance required to succeed in almost anything worth doing in life. And the drama often played-out on the football pitch is so often a corollary for life. Yet another opportunity to remind ourselves why it is so often referred to as the “Beautiful Game”.

Yesterday, as I made my way through the parking lot at Central Park, I had an opportunity to spend a few minutes with Vicki Bineau (Lauren’s Mom). I hope Lauren won’t take exception to being singled-out (although she better get used to it because I ALWAYS have my heart on my sleeve), but I found myself, as I often do, thanking parents like Vicki for “trusting me” with her daughters.

That seems to always take parents by surprise.

I look into the faces of our young citizens and I see, oh so much, hope and passion, and fear, and uncertainty, and the potential for confidence. The latter is the best part. Seeing that something we are doing one-on-one, and through the team, is building their self-esteem.

Our Shockers will look back on these days, a short spell, to be certain, and hopefully always draw on a memory that is the catalyst for a resevoir of strength and determination to face a challenge. Any challenge.

Perhaps “We are Shockers” will echo in the back of their mind in a moment of truth (in fond memory is certainly good enough). Maybe “I want the ball” will be something they carry with them daily.

When new players sign-on with Shocker Nation, it is, almost always, a similar story… There is timidness, and a dread of the endless running – possibly a resentment towards sprints. There is also uncertainty around why Coach Brian yells – even while I seem to be having fun. However, after a few weeks they feel their bodies strengthen. Skills they did not realize were possible become second nature (like dribbling the ball and looking up and down the field). I look them in the eyes (and, I can tell this is unnerving at first), and say things like: “I know you have it in you; and, I am going to count on you to give it your best”. And, they accomplish all manner of things.

This can include keeping their chins up. Heads held high with a steady gaze.

And fist bumps are meaningful.

Some times it’s only, seemingly, a small thing such as ball control. It can also be making a courageous stand against a determined fast-break. But, regardless of the actual result, they grow, and learn something every time.

We are going into our third week and we have been quietly discussing things like respect, leadership, a legacy of the uncompromising FIGHT and our legendary defenses. Why and how we win as a team. How individuals can form a team that is like an unbreakable chain – providing it’s forged with integrity, hard work and keen desire.

And, they get it. It’s in their eyes. They run their laps without complaints now. They understand the drills and enjoy the AGGRESSION DRILL.

So… It’s different every season – yet, in the same way.

We are Shockers, indeed. Always that. But, we are citizens first. And, they are our daughters. Always that.

Coach Brian

coaching citizens

Hannah is probably aware that she has a family at large in Shocker Nation. In fact, in so many ways, she represents and reflects the core philosophy of why I coach, and what we have accomplished as a team over the past three years.

The truth is Hannah is often silly and goofy. But, we have always been the underdogs. No one player is especially gifted, nor a complete soccer player. However, as a unit, we find ways to win more often than not (and I don’t mean simply winning matches – I mean growing as citizens). Young ladies with confidence that will always find a way to contribute.

That is, forever in my mind and heart, Shocker Ball.

Cork

On May 19, 2009, at 10:49 PM, Holli-Marie Taylor wrote:

“Brian,

I haven’t responded before now because I was waiting for confirmation from Hannah that her dad is going to let her go this weekend and that he is going to take her to practice on Wednesday. I can see from his reply that she is indeed going this weekend – if only for moral support and to be with the team. I have yet to find out about practice.

I am quite satisfied with your explanation behind your thought process concerning Hannah’s safety. Indeed, I applaud it – but it came on unexpectedly and I wasn’t prepared. I hope that you will understand the thought process behind my response. She loves playing soccer – and loves playing Shocker ball. She will be back in the fall. And I hope to get her into a camp this summer, if I can work the logistics/scheduling – I don’t have her much during the summer.

Thanks for being a dedicated coach and a man of integrity.

.holli-marie”

inspiration

“Victory is when your heart changes” – Nick Vujicic

The word “victory” will never mean quite the same to me having seen this video.

Coach Brian

Shocker Nation Notes

Shocker Nation:

Please consider showing the video below to your daughters.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6MhAwQ64c0

I know the people at GrassHopper. They tell me that much of the video was inspired by many elements of my own background. I honestly think the future of this nation will be in the hands of entrepreneurs. This is how I want my own Haley Anne to see the world. And, perhaps more importantly, relative to these “Shocker days”, it maintains our theme of establishing goals with the notion we can achieve any thing we are willing to strive for.

Meanwhile…

We have matches Tuesday against Dawsonville and Thursday against John Creek. We are doing this to maintain both an edge and “game fitness”. However, Johns Creek is going to be VERY tough.  We are also going to try to add a dimension to our game that includes kick-backs. We will need this ability at State Cup to open up the field for fast-breaks. Jessica and AC, in particular, will play a vital role in partnering with our Midfielders to make this work.

I suspect this season has taxed our families. However, I’ll not apologize because I would submit to you that these days will set the stage and prove pivotal in our Shockers development as citizens.

Patty and Andy Wojcik have secured rooms for State Cup this weekend in Columbus, Georgia. We need to be VERY methodical and make sure we coordinate getting players over to Columbus, and ready. I believe getting to Columbus is approximately a three hour drive. Lets try to be there Friday night so we can have a meeting and team dinner. If you can’t get there until Saturday morning please let me and Patty know ASAP.

Food for thought…

I focused less on highlights, and more on the experience of the District Cup on our team Blogsite. You can see that summary at: https://shockers.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/2009-district-cup/

The District Cup was a fantastic experience that now makes our Shockers seasoned.

I am sure everyone understands what a remarkable feat it was for those kids to fight their way into that Finals match. It required integrity, luck, grit (we were down in two matches, and had to fight back both times), and not losing (in our second match with Hotshots) – which is a unique element to soccer internationally. We saw some of our best passing. Hannah D also learned the hard way why coming out of the goal FAST is crucial.

I am reasonably certain our Shockers were emotionally spent by the Cup Final.

We saw this two years ago, when another young (and newly formed) Shocker team had to fight their way through rival (and more mature) ASA Crush to make the finals of the Fall Lanier Cup. We finished runner up to Dacula mostly because we were simply drained emotionally. That following Spring we balanced ourselves, and won the prestigious Extreme Cup in the Spring. So, we have a history of forming Cup quality teams and getting to the Finals.

In any event, it can be argued that our shockers played one of their better matches in the Final. But, I feel they played one of their best matches ever Sunday morning. Getting into a finals takes a tremendous toll emotionally as well as physically. So, we need to think through how we rest and feed the team this coming weekend (and, possibly more importantly, in Savannah where I think we can take a Cup).

Bottom-line: We must always prepare to wage an entire campaign, as opposed to a series of skirmishes.

Stick with me Shockers. We have our best days ahead off us.

Please be at Central Park Field #3 for tomorrow’s match against Dawsonville no later than 6:45pm.

Coach Brian

2009 District Cup

My mind whirls with thoughts and emotions around this past weekend and the 2009 District Cup.

Bottom Row: Jessica Curtis, Lindsay Wojcik, Christy Tovar, Mallory Charlton, Sarah Bowers, Hannah Erger, AC Anderson,KCLowenthal Back Row: Coach Brian Patrick Cork, Grace Guthrie, Claire Guthrie, Mars Twitchell, Michelle Higgins, Haley Anne Cork, Emily Dwane, Hannah Derezinski, Coach Chris Tovar

Bottom Row: Jessica Curtis, Lindsay Wojcik, Christy Tovar, Mallory Charlton, Sarah Bowers, Hannah Erger, AC Anderson,KCLowenthal Back Row: Coach Brian Patrick Cork, Grace Guthrie, Claire Guthrie, Mars Twitchell, Michelle Higgins, Haley Anne Cork, Emily Dwane, Hannah Derezinski, Coach Chris Tovar

I’ll not detail each match because they have combined to make for a powerful and dramatic total experience for our Shockers.

Every moment was, in itself, a highlight.

I believe we emerged with vital lessons learned about establishing goals and working hard to achieve them. Playing with the highest levels of integrity, and digging deep into tired bodies for that final surge of strength needed to hold their heads high.

We did, however, literally, begin on the right foot…

We had an opportunity to force GSA Sparks into a forfeit for our first match of the tournament Saturday. We would simply have none of that. This gave us an opportunity to tell our Shockers this was a clear indication of the faith we have in them. We earn our victories. The Shockers responded with a decisive 4 to 0 victory that quickly separated them from many of the finest teams to represent the region.

Ultimately, those four goals earned us vital tie-breaker points that made the difference, and gave us a a shot at AFCU Bengals for the District Cup Finals.

We played with the highest levels of integrity, and we earned medals as a glittering reminder of what happens when we Control, Charge and Protect.

An enduring image of the District Cup will be our Keeper, Hannah Derezinski, crumpled in a painful heap, having gone to the ground for a ball defending her goal.

Another was the look on the faces of Shocker Nation as they burst into cheers, en masse, with the news that our Shockers (Mighty Tigers all) had fought their way into the District Cup Finals – earning a trip to the Georgia State Cup Championships next week in Columbus, Georgia.

Certainly, there was drama; stories of sizzling shots, courage in the middle, brilliant passes, cries of rage and defiance. There was also sweat – and, oh yes, blood. Tears abounded. We had moments where we hung our heads – but, some how prevailed.

As I wrap up this post, I am thinking of Claire Guthrie. We made a deal; and, she kept her end of the bargain. She also reminded me that I had promised Grace I would take them to State if they would trust me.

I told her that I always keep my word.

I am not sure what I read in her eyes at that moment. But, maybe one day I might find that sort of covenant made a difference in her life. In my heart, winning matches and cups aside, I know that is what coaching, and being a Dad, is all about.

Coach Brian

Indeed, we are Shockers

Surely, given our collective experiences, we recognize that change and growth can come unexpectedly. We believe we are faced with a bad situation. Then suddenly, sequential events create a positive, if not dramatic, result.

We saw that very scenario unfold over the past three weeks with our Shockers.

Beginning with our first match with Storm, we saw Shockers appear to lose vital focus, and they began, to my dismay, to bicker amongst themselves. We subsequently suffered a 2 to 1 loss that appeared to be the result of our own flat and uninspired play – and, an own goal.

Losing is, in many respects, a vital part of the beautiful game. However, integrity and character must separate themselves from errantly bouncing balls.

Shocker ball found itself deflated.

We rallied the following week against NSA Revolution with a decisive 5 to 0 victory.

Oddly, our players became tentative at practice, and confidence appeared to be eroding. Certainly we had two diverse cultures that had only recently converged. Some of the younger players had been with me for several years, and knew little else than a history of winning and a dramatic Cup victory. However, much of this hardy squad had suffered through uninspired leadership and two losing seasons at ASA, and might have begun to feel their current campaign was a fluke.

We then met a surging Fusion Fury that severely tested us even though we pulled away with a 4 to 1 victory, and a Christy Tovar hat-trick.

Yet, there was, again, mounting dissent.

All of this came to a horrific head last weekend when we simply fell apart against an admittedly well-coached and inspired NSA Magic. As I relayed in a prior post: Match #9: Lessons Learned, we suffered poor sportsmanship, a veritable melt-down, and a crisis of confidence that saw us shut-out 1 to 0; and a lost opportunity for the league title.

That was bad. But, what happened next was good. The real story, was the realization of a different kind of magic.

By Monday it was evident our Shockers not only did not like losing, they were deeply offended by how they suddenly saw themselves being reflected. Facebook connections and texting proliferated. Leaders and leadership were manifested in unexpected ways. Sophomoric philosophy was born and realized. Most importantly, only one side was ultimately taken – and, that was one Shocker simply united for the other.

My dramatic prose aside, the girls did not like they way they felt. They were quickly realizing it was more fun to care about and support one another. Unexpected allies reinforced the notion that sticking together and saying good things about people was satisfying. Almost as one, each of them concluded in a fury of electronic exchanges that they cared about one another (articulated only in the manner that adolescent girls can in their modern techspeak). Esprit de Corps is time-honored, and builds it’s own mystical momentum. And, we saw that energize our shockers.

Let me be all the more clear: They, as a group, saw a wrong, came to a consensus, and solved the problem with decisiveness and emerging maturity.

The best possible test of this was realized Tuesday when we met Fusion Storm for the second time. What should have (or, maybe only could have) been the match to decide league champions, the Shockers would be playing for the point of pride.

Having sorted themselves out, they were (as always) the first team on the pitch warming up. We were loose and comraderie filled the air. A small group had pulled our Keeper, Hanna D, aside and were warming her up (both with support and in fact).

I had them form a circle around me. There was no pressure. I asked them to look left then right at the players and teammates around them – and, to consider playing for those citizens and not themselves. They did giggle (they will always have that element of silly little kittens). However, that passed quickly when I reminded them that we had met one of our primary goals of the Spring – a winning season; and no one could take that away from them. The next objective was our secondary, and a stated goal, of making it to State Cup. I also explained that they were now a tournament team, going into District Cup, to take on the entire state of Georgia’s finest soccer teams – as underdogs.

That got their collective attention. There was our truest bonding agent. A renewed cause celebre and our raison d’etre.

I have already recounted the tale of our victory over Storm with Match #10: Finishing Well. As a father and coach, winning in the manner our fearsome Shockers did Tuesday night was damn satisfying.

We had overcome angst and self-doubt. We then met questionable referees, and a Storm coach that, amazingly, felt compelled to stack his team against us with guest players.

Before the kick-off I thumped my chest and bellowed:

Ladies… This fateful day – are we silly little kittens or Mighty Tigers all?

Without hesitation they responded with firm conviction:

MIGHTY TIGERS!

There were “cat calls” from the Storm bench. However, those were quickly silenced after a quick melee at midfield followed by a fast break on the Storm goal.

Perhaps the best part of the match for me was half time. The team came off the pitch united by fury; their eyes blazing. They were incensed by ref calls, and the unfortunate lack of sportsmanship by Storm. However, Chris and I recognized that as Tiger Food.

As the center ref blew her (over used) whistle to end the match, our Shockers found one another and joined their coaches with less celebration, and so much more grim satisfaction. They, each one of them, knew they had played a great match; and, it was best savoured as a team.

That is, and always will be, Shocker Ball.

See everyone tomorrow outside of Stone Mountain (or,will certainly feel you). No matter how that wily ball bounces, it’s always a beautiful game – and all the more because we are, indeed Shocker Nation.

Coach Brian

Match #10: Finishing Well

It always feels good to win.

However, last night match against Fusion Storm may have been one of our most balanced efforts to date.

The difference in our play from this past weekend was simply that of night-and-day.

Our defense lived up to its vaunted reputation, but this time was actually led by our Keeper Hannah Derezinski, who earned her clean sheet (shut out) with no less than four big saves. She took a lot of heat with Storm who took advantage of some breakdowns in the middle. However, she came out of the goal twice, and added two booming punts for good measure – one of which we converted into a brilliant fast break that resulted in right-side Stryker Sarah Bowers taking a dramatic shot on goal. All four of our defenders contributed evenly, and appeared to be communicating well. AC Anderson took yet another fast break up the left sideline with great conviction. She now has “clearance to go” if she sees an opportunity. It’s only a matter of time before she finishes with a goal. Haley Anne Cork played one of her best heads-up matches diffusing several Storm attacks – often appearing, seemingly, out of nowhere to knock a ball out of play and confounding opponents. Claire Guthrie has become as reliable as the setting sun. She stands her ground against on-coming Strykers, and will likely strip them of the ball; and, has developed a knack for transitioning the ball nicely back upfield to set up her Strykers. Jessica Curtis evidences great athleticism by relentlessly pounding the ball back up the pipe and frustrating hapless adversaries. NOTE: Last night we tried something different and asked (well… ordered) Jessica to stay on the defensive end of the midline. We recognize that Jessica chomps at the bit to leverage her speed and endurance all over the field. However, her primary roll was to stop any fast break at the midline (we control the midfield), and give her teammates time to form up. And, that worked quite well.

We found ourselves fielding only just enough players with one sub. However, this gave our indomitable Hannah Erger an opportunity to play her first complete match of the season. And, she stepped up, fighting for every ball on the right-side, and contributing to the offensive game with some well-timed and crucial short passes. KC Lowenthal has a knack for footwork that creates opportunities for her Captain Mars Twitchell. KC is unselfish when it comes to clean passes that have more often than not allowed our offense to lead the entire league in scoring. For the rest of my days, when I look back and ponder “silly little kittens” or “mighty tigers”, I will always have KC foremost in my mind. She turns it “on” for every match (whether she stayed up until 4am the night before or not). Grace Guthrie is currently an enigma. She will chug back-and-forth like an ever-ready rabbit dutifully chasing the ball. Then, once you yell at her (better yet – make eye contact) and tell her she needs to stop chasing the ball, and go after the ball (there is, apparently, a difference), she becomes a spark. Sure enough, in the last 20 minutes she showed up and transitioned the ball three times that had coach Chris and me producing sighs of heart-felt relief.

Christy Tovar offered up a blistering shot from thirty meters out in the first half that almost collapsed the goal rigging. Unfortunately, an inexperienced ref called her offsides and negated the goal. Nonetheless, our Strykers put even pressure on Storms defense all evening. We likely had as many as ten solid shots on goal. Mars had one of her best crossing days yet. And, her corner kicks give us more and more options. Once again, it was Mars, our faithful Captain that found a way to score and broke the Storm early in the second half. Sarah Bowers now adds a new dimension to our attack with speed that almost equals that of AC Anderson, and a good sense of where to position herself (she needs to remember to shoot around the goalie – as opposed to passing to the goalie). The result is three very strong scoring candidates up top with a formidable bench of ball-handlers in reserve for looming tournaments.

The only thing that bothers me about last nights (at least in terms of Shocker ball) match is Emily Dwane. I neglected her minutes. However, that will be rectified come tournament time. She is working hard and improving every week. And, her team spirit is nothing less than clearly evident.

Shockers 1 vs. Storm 0.

We have realized a milestone by accomplishing a winning season with a very respectable regular season record of 7 -3. Storm will end the season at the top of our league. However, our Shockers demonstrated why we lead the league in scoring, and, represented themselves as the better team both in determination, as well as character.

So, we head to District Cup this weekend in good form, and with momentum.

Look for another post “Indeed, we are Shockers”, from me soon positing our Shockers recent growth as citizens (and certainly, Mighty Tigers) and a team.

Coach Brian

Match #9: Lessons Learned

I can begin this post regarding yesterday’s match against NSA Magic with some highlights…

Our defensive unit was solid. AC Anderson had a brilliant fast break the entire length of the pitch – and, darn near scored. Ironically our Strykers were off-sides and diffused the play. But, that was a ‘shocking’ reminder of AC’s blistering speed, and something we need to capitalize on more often. Haley Anne Cork probably saved three goals with two headers and a desperate dash across the box to block a strong shot from a magic Forward. In the second half, Christy Tovar put on one brilliant display of footwork after another, battling her way up the pipe. Sarah Bowers dug deep and gave it her best playing the awkward left-side Stryker position, almost managing a shot that missed the net by an inch at best. Jessica Curtis was simply everywhere. Even though that might actually be a problem, we could not question her fierce desire and will.

But…

We have the highest scoring offense in the league. We put far more shots on goal during the first half – yet we put no balls in the net.

In fact, the only score in the entire grueling defensive struggle was offered up by our Keeper when she fumbled the ball right into her own goal. A lack of concentration and fundamentals aside, that goal did not lose the match, and a shot at the league title, for us…

We lost our match to Magic yesterday because we left more than blood and sweat on that Pickneyville Filed #4; we punted our Esprit de Corps.

Shockers 0 and NSA Magic 1.

I can take losing any day as long as everyone walks off the pitch with heads high, and feeling we all did our collective best. However, I was decidedly dejected after yesterday because I felt I let our team down. I am not wired to shrug these things off as simple games. I feel every practice and every match is a vital test of character, desire and a lesson waiting to be learned.

It’s not every day a coach must admit he lost a match for his team.

This current Shocker squad shares something special with teams of the past (and, I pray the future). We can and do win as a team – and a team that genuinely cares about one another and believes in one another. We do have some very good athletes. However, it will ALWAYS be heart that puts a team either over the top, or, drops them to the bottom.

Our own goal took the wind right out of us. We soldiered on, but with heads down.

We had a meltdown at half time where a player (actually two players) essentially refused to play a position. This created consternation in the ranks and ignited bickering that carried right over to the pitch. We went into the match Sunday with a clear game plan with contingencies that went out the window. My gut tells me had we stuck with the plan that simply involved “hot-swapping” three key offensive players, we likely would have had more activity up top.

I may have been flustered myself because I expect the girls to trust me, and to do what ever I ask. The typical result is our own kind of magic. I realize this is my ego – possibly misplaced self-esteem.

I must submit to everyone that my heart was broken by what happened both on the pitch and amongst our players.

So, perhaps mine has to be the greatest, if not most important lesson (I just need to understand what it is).

Mind you… If the ball bounces the right way against Storm; and, if Lightning beats Magic next week, the league standing make another dramatic shift.

But, suddenly that matters less. As I work my way through this post, my resolve to return to basics is working in the back of my head. We are going to invoke some significant changes in our line-up for tomorrow nights match against Fusion Storm. I understand this is going to make for a handful of ‘sad little kittens’. This team has two, and possibly three tournaments yet to play this season. We formed ourselves this year with the strategic purpose of being a tournament squad. We have a winning regular season under our collective belts no matter what happens tomorrow night. More importantly, beginning this weekend at District Cup we have a chance to turn ourselves around.

In speaking with Bob Twitchell today it occurred to me that we are now the underdogs going into the District Cup. We will find ourselves with a tough seed and surrounded by other teams that will view us as weaker. This is our best opportunity to dig in and remember that we are Shockers.

In my heart I feel that losing yesterday’s match might end up being a good thing. We probably can’t be that ‘Cinderella’ team that goes from worst to first, and wins that storybook league title. However, we can be that team that makes the critical decision to reunite ourselves around a renewed sense of purpose. A raison d’etre (if I misspelled that, feel free to correct me) if you will.

I ask our shocker parents to pull their player aside and ask the simple question:

“Can they play for their teammates – and not themselves.”

Tuesday (or Thursday depending on weather) night I am going to ask them to look at the player to their right and left and commit themselves to that person – and, to me.

Every practice and every match this month of May must be ever greater evidence that we Want The Ball, and we are a team.

So… The regular season ends tomorrow night – and, our best challenge as a team begins Thursday and Saturday morning when we take it to the State of Georgia where we hope to realize our team goal of reaching State Cup.

Coach Brian

Underdogs

So…

If Facebook exchanges, texting and parent telephone calls are an indication, our Shockers have realized their own pain, and are quickly rallying themselves.

Can this signal and set the stage for their best days of the season – and, perhaps their finest hours as citizens?

We have a winning season behind us. No one can take that from a team that learned how to be winners and are learning how to grow through adversity. The looming District Cup represents nothing less than a splendid opportunity to make themselves proud and take on the entire state of Georgia as underdogs.

The New Yorker is always sort of hit and miss, for me, and the less said about some of their content the better, but every once in a while an article comes along that reminds me why I bother to read the thing in the first place.

Malcolm Gladwell’s recent piece on the phenomenon of underdogs beating superior foes is an engrossing and varied look at a subject that should be dear to anyone’s heart. His analysis is astute and inspiring, but also a tad provocative: underdogs frequently win, he says, and would win more, too, if only they knew how likely their victory actually was:

“David’s victory over Goliath, in the Biblical account, is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past two hundred years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5 per cent of the cases. That is a remarkable fact. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost a third of the time.”

In the Biblical story of David and Goliath, David initially put on a coat of mail and a brass helmet and girded himself with a sword: he prepared to wage a conventional battle of swords against Goliath. But then he stopped. “I cannot walk in these, for I am unused to it,” he said (in Robert Alter’s translation), and picked up those five smooth stones. What happened, Arreguín-Toft wondered, when the underdogs likewise acknowledged their weakness and chose an unconventional strategy? He went back and re-analyzed his data. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5 to 63.6. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded, “even when everything we think we know about power says they shouldn’t.

[…]

Drawing on subjects as various as T.E. Lawrence and a pre-teen girls’ basketball team, he offers up several illustrations of the general principle of efforttrumping ability so long as that effort is being expended furiously and immediately. The example of the full-court press is frequently returned to, and he makes a number of good points about the importance of turning the tables on one’s more powerful opponent at once and forever rather than waiting for him to make the first move and establish the ground rules of the conflict. This naturally bears upon questions of insurgency (which he touches upon), but even if he were only writing about the girls and their ruthless program of basketball supremacy it would be worth reading.

I am not familiar with Mr. Gladwell’s work elsewhere (though he seems quite popular, judging by what I’ve seen in the stores), but this, at least, is certainly worth your time. We should exercise caution in taking these ideas as a solid ethical metric, for to do so would be to flirt with consequentialism, but there is much here that is of value for those engrossed in the dynamics of human competition.

Coach Brian

Match #8: The psychology of victory

It struck me around the 30th minute in the first half of today’s match against Fusion Fury that the psychology of “the beautiful game” is as important as training and preparation.

Possibly the difference between coaching and a careful hand on a shoulder. Perhaps it’s all the same. But, each player is different – and, so is how they relate to one another, and how they approach each day, and all matches.

Our Shockers knew they have to keep winning as the season winds down to take a good seed in the pending District Cup. But, they started the match today tentative at best. Flat is a very good word. They were specifically told to:

“Beat all white jerseys to the ball.”

That did not happen. In fact, we were out hustled the entire first half. Mind you we had six shots on goal – including a penalty kick. But, we simply could not find the goal with the ball always going sideways off a toe.

Captain Mars Twitchell did launch a beautiful corner kick that rattled off Christy Tovar for a decisive goal. And, our defense dug in with gritty play. Keeper Hannah Derezinski had the save of her young life actually stretching full-out to her left to finger tip a hard shot beyond the post. That was really fun to watch.

We began to try some different combinations just to shake things up at the midline and amongst our Strykers.

Some heart were broken with some harsh words amongst the players. That was new. But, it will be corrected. I say this mostly because we play as a team – and, we always play as a team. We support one another. Always. That is all there is to it.

During half time we simply reminded them that when we control the midline and communicate, everyone relaxes, and we score goals. We lead the entire league in goals. An eye-popping thirty (30) after this morning, to be exact. So, we should always feel that we can control any match by Wanting The Ball.

Voila! As simple as that, the light turned on, and we began to play Shocker Ball from the opening minute of the second half.

Christy Tovar woke up and began to deny Fury their lines up the middle. She set up plays – often taking transitions from her defenders. Sarah Bowers was pushed up to the right-side Stryker position and the game simply changed in it’s pace. Mars Twitchell offered up a brilliant left-footed shot from 20 meters out that was clearly goal bound when Sarah tapped in in for good measure, and her first goal of the season. We debated who should have the goal. But, in the end, it’s generally the last boot on the ball that gets the goal; and, the ref made it official on his tally sheet. Mars is a great Captain and continues to lead her team with unselfish passes and crosses. She is also raising her game to new heights with ever better corner kicks.

Once we had momentum our Shockers were relaxed and set up some splendid fast breaks up the right side.

We had an awkward moment when our Keeper bent over for a slow moving ball, losing her concentration, neglecting to smother it with her body, and allowing it to dribble morosely into a corner.

However, Christy Tovar was heads-down and looking for another “hat-trick. And, within a six minute span, had two more hard shots for goals and another win that should give us a lot of confidence for tomorrow’s critical match against NSA Magic.

We willed ourselves to victory. This is what winning teams do.

Shockers 4 vs. Fury 1.

Coach Brian