I was able to join the VMI men's soccer team for pre-season training over the past two days. Being around a group of college-age players -- and the humor and camaraderie that comes with it -- has been somewhat rejuvenating.It has also reminded of the value of sunblock.
Footy at this time of year also brings back some memories. The temperature when I did pre-season training was always scorching, and the humidity was always high. My first pre-season was spent mostly on an exercise bike, as I strove to find a low-impact method to recover from a broken leg. On a side note, today I discovered that the physio/trainer that worked with me has since opened a PT practice in Sarasota.
Dramatic weight loss is my next memory. Initially, I thought the requirement that we record our weight before and after each session was ludicrous. Then I paid attention, and realized I usually dropped over 5lbs during each session. Taking on enough fluids to gain some of that weight back quickly became a part of daily life.
Fitness tests always loomed during pre-season. This year, the VMI guys have already completed a beep test and some interval sprints, and more will follow. Such is the nature of the game that it requires a surreal combination of strength, speed, and stamina. I had fairly mixed luck with my fitness tests. I passed when I was younger, and struggled after trying to bulk up.
Pre-season has also given me reason to reflect on the mentality of a soccer player. VMI has a curious setup, in terms of being an environment conducive to athletic success. Freshmen spend a difficult first week acclimating to their new team, before being figuratively imprisoned by their peers. The first official day of the school year, Matriculation Day, sees that freshmen are separated from their family and friends, relieved of their hair, and placed under the supervision of a group of 18-22 year old students. This Cadre then controls the next 8 days of the freshmen's lives, so it is easy to see why they become guard-like in stature.
And we all know how harmonious prisoner-guard teams are.
Miraculously, things are harmonious on the team. In part, because being with the team is a rare respite from cadre for the freshmen.
But attitudes are different. Confidence is off. A skepticism of authority figures appears, to some degree. A sense that you can't do anything right seems to emerge for some players.
In short, a difficult task gets much harder for the coaching staff.
I suppose that challenge is what constitutes the real work for a coach at VMI.