Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Three Ideas for Better High School Soccer in Maine

1. Reconfigure game schedules to establish "Soccer Saturday."

For as long as I can remember, most high school teams in Maine have played their games on two weeknights separated by only one day of rest between each game (e.g., Monday/Wednesday, Tuesday/Thursday, Wednesday/Friday). However, we should reconfigure the game schedules to create "Soccer Saturday" to bolster high school soccer's brand in the state and to develop better and safer soccer players.

To establish Soccer Saturday, we should designate Tuesday and Wednesday as the two weekday game nights throughout the state, and we should schedule girl/boy doubleheaders on Saturdays. Each team still plays two games per week, but Soccer Saturday would give the Maine high school soccer its own version of the gridiron's "Friday Night Lights." Instead of playing before sparse crowds on a weekday evening, a Saturday night doubleheader between two schools' girls and boys' teams would attract larger crowds and create more exciting atmospheres. The benefits of Soccer Saturday go beyond a boost in fandom, though. Adopting a Tuesday/Saturday and a Wednesday/Saturday schedule pattern also helps the two most important stakeholders in high school soccer: The game's coaches and its players.

During my brief tenure as the coach at Westbook High School, our program was relatively undeveloped and inexperienced. We had very few players participating in club soccer during the winter and the spring, so we had to take full advantage of our summer program and the first couple weeks of pre-season to focus almost exclusively on the technical and tactical development of our players. That's because once early September hit, the Tuesday/Thursday game pattern forced us into a rhythm that emphasized game recovery and game preparation above player development. With two, 80-minute games being played within 72 hours (or three games in five days during the few weeks we had to pick up a third game on Saturday), our weekly schedule throughout the season roughly consisted of this:

Monday- Game prep. for Tuesday's opponent
Tuesday- Game
Wednesday- Recovery from Tuesday's game, game prep. for Thursday's opponent
Thursday- Game
Friday- Recovery from Thursday's game, technical development
Saturday- Technical development or a game

Rinse and repeat for the rest of the season.

By adopting a Soccer Saturday, teams who play their weekday game on Wednesdays have two clusters of back-to-back training sessions, instead of only one under the current schedule format. And teams that play their weekday game on Tuesdays have a three-day stretch of training sessions, with Sundays acting as a game recovery day that doesn't show up on a team's session calendar.

This elongated training schedule also helps players, because it allows coaches to step off the game-to-game treadmill that runs throughout the season. And coaches who don't have to prepare training sessions with one eye on last night's game and the other eye on tomorrow night's game can then organize sessions that focus on the long-term development of the program's players.

Players also benefit from a weekday/Saturday format, because that schedule gives them at least two days to physically recover from each game. As noted above, the current scheduling format forces players to play two games in three days (or three games in five days), which allows for a recovery rate that falls way short of U.S. Youth Soccer's recommendation of 36-92 hours of rest between competitive games. (The Soccer Saturday schedule also doesn't meet that recommendation, but it guarantees at least 48 hours of rest between each competitive game.)

The reconfiguration of a Soccer Saturday schedule boosts the high school soccer brand in Maine, allows coaches to focus on the long-term development of their programs during the season, and is a safer alternative for the state's players. Who can argue against that? (Just kidding, I recognize there are possible counter-arguments--especially related to logistics.)

2. Establish a Maine Soccer Hall of Fame.

To build a brighter future, soccer in Maine in general (and high school soccer in particular) needs to shine a spotlight on its history. What better way to do that than to establish a Maine Soccer Hall of Fame?

This endeavor doesn't necessarily require a lot of capital. A well-designed Web site, with an annual induction ceremony should be enough to ensure the Maine's soccer history is given the attention it's due. Couple that induction ceremony with a pre-season tournament that consists of the finalists from the previous year's state finals, and you've got a weekend that kicks off the high school season with a little extra oomph.

And though our state is only one of about a dozen states without a men's Division I soccer program, we could rotate the hosting responsibilities of the annual Hall of Fame induction and tournament among the state's eleven Division III men's and women's programs.

3. Use #mesoccer.

And finally, an idea that is much simpler and more immediate than the previous two: Use #mesoccer when discussing soccer in Maine. The common hashtag of course ensures all Twitter conversations about the beautiful game in our beautiful state are deposited into a common stream of observations, score updates, etc.

- John C.L. Morgan  


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