I was shocked when I looked at my calendar for what was going on this weekend and it was pretty much a complete blank. Well, except for the Notre Dame Football opener, the rest was wide open. It may not sound too bad except for those of you that know me well. I can't remember the last weekend I had an open calendar, ESPECIALLY on Labor Day weekend. This weekend was always filled with a multitude of soccer games against opponents from all over the Mid-Atlantic, that many times ended up with a championship game on Monday, fully occupying what otherwise could have been a productive weekend.
This weekend also represents the closing of all fall sports' preseason and the transition into the upcoming regular season. Coaches are combing over their preseason notes and beginning to put together their starting and situational lineups for the grueling season that awaits.
With my club soccer coaching days all but over and my youngest son's academy season not starting until the 13th, I plan on taking full advantage of the open days and take care of some much needed home projects. I'll also spend a little time reflecting on the preseason we just finished and preparing for the regular season that begins with the Havre de Grace tournament next weekend.
One of the biggest challenges a coach may face is trying to temper preseason expectations with actual performance. Is what you just witnessed over your preseason practices and games a good indicator of future performance or are there at least some things you learned about your team that you can be comfortable with taking into the season for granted?
Preseasons are an essential part of any level of sports to answer any questions you had coming in to the season, to get your athletes game or match fit, evaluate your team's talent, move players up and down the depth chart, and institute any new systems of play without the pressures of the regular season. But what do they really tell us about our team and is the team's success or lack thereof in the preseason a foreshadowing of what's to come?
In the National Football League since the AFL/NFL merger in the mid-1960s, only seven teams have parlayed an undefeated preseason record into a Super Bowl championship including the '67 Packers, '69 Chiefs, '71 Cowboys, '74 Steelers, '90 Giants, '00 Ravens and the '03 Patriots.
According to www.nba.com, during the seasons from 2004-2012, "11 teams have gone through the preseason either undefeated or with just one loss. All 11 have made the playoffs. In the same time, eight teams have won just one game - or haven't won any - in the preseason. Only one of the eight, the 2007-08 Cavs, made it to the playoffs."
Trying to apply the same to my own personal experience is difficult because most of my coaching has been on the club side where there is little preseason as we tended to play year-round with only a few breaks throughout the year. My limited high school coaching experience doesn't offer much assistance either, as all high school soccer teams make the playoffs and three of the four years I coached the girls, we ran in to the buzzsaw that was Perry Hall early in the playoffs.
But regardless of whether you went undefeated in the preseason or lost every game, no one remembers those games when the final bell sounds to close out the season. The only ones that truly matter are the ones that begin this week across the county and state and lead to playoff seedings, county championships, and post season awards. In the club and travel level sports, league championships, national rankings, and promotion/relegation awaits the season that is about to unfold, with little consideration given to your preseason scrimmages and tournament play.
If your team was successful, it's imperative that you temper their excitement and their expectations and keep them focused on the task at hand – the one that comes with the next game. If they had a rough patch to begin the year, it's equally as important that you don't let your team dwell on the trials and tribulations that accompanied their preseason but focus on their ability to change their path with more hard work, focused attention, and creating opportunities where their preparation will lead to further success.
Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller said it best, "Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday's success or put its failures behind and start over again. That's the way life is, with a new game every day".
At the end of this regular season, what will the preseason say about your team?