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Will the Canes Finish Perfect?
Nov. 17, 2017
The 2017 Ocala Hurricanes are just kids. In fact, they are some of the youngest kids in their Under 14 level with North Central Florida's Big Sun Youth Soccer League. Their rivals haven't let them forget that with some of the pregame chatter as they have continued to roll up a 9-0-0 record with just one more match to go. Every year of age difference matters more in athletics, the younger a level is. Sixth and seventh graders know full well when they are up against eighth or ninth graders in any sport. Soccer is no different. "This is a challenging league for all the younger players," says their coach. "Our approach to the size and age disparity has been to emphasize drills for quick off the ball running and passing. We want the ball to do the work by getting our eyes and voices up for each other. When good pressure decisions are happening in practice, they also happen in matches."
"I heard some of them saying they're going to beat us, Coach," said sixth grade midfielder Zander Lema, the youngest Hurricane, to Head Coach Fred Miley before a recent match, "but I didn't say anything."
"You did well," Coach Miley answered.
"We all know we don't have to say anything, Coach," Zander returned. "We all know soccer is how we talk."
Medals were awarded last week after Game 9 signified the official end of the season, due to a midseason administrative adjustment securing voluntary matches to throw Week 1 (postponed by Hurricane Irma) forward to Week 10. And so, although the Hurricanes collected their championship medals last Saturday, they still consider Game 10, a voluntary rematch with the Highlighters, to be part of their season.
"Nine contests is not enough for us," Coach Miley said. "We need ten matches to call this a soccer season. Our kids want this season to keep going. Nobody wants it to end. We added a challenge to the league for a Champions/All-stars match because we didn't want it to end."
That challenge to the league's other squads, inviting two or three players from each of the other five teams for one final match against the young champions, did not raise enough response, so the Canes must be content with the number ten.
"We had only two other coaches respond with any availability or willingness for an eleventh match," said Miley. "Our kids just wanted everyone to know they were up for that. So I voiced their confidence with one last invitation to everyone. Even with scheduling challenges, we were ready to field ten players to take on the league's best. I reached out to all five teams with the idea. Only two other teams were prepared to send two or three players to us, so our challenge for an all-star squad to be mustered went unmet. Our kids recognize this unmet challenge as part of their season's memory. Zander wasn't joking. Soccer is how we talk."
Coach Miley's dad took him to season ticket games for the 1972 Miami Dolphins, through all home games for their unmatched perfect season 45 years ago. "I was only nine, but I remember every game, and today I could tell you the whole lineup including the backups. Those guys were our heroes. Florida didn't have a baseball team back then, and I had to learn soccer when we were in Mexico because our Miami coaches didnt know it in my grade schools. They'd just roll out a soccer ball maybe two weeks a year and tell us to go kick. I had to join a league to play soccer. As boys in elementary school, we were all about football. We had the Dolphins football cards, we knew their stats, we traded Namath and Bradshaw for our linemen, we all wanted to be Csonka, Warfield, Griese, Scott, or Fernandez, and even though we won the Super Bowl again the next year, we were deeply troubled that our Dolphins lost two of those next 17 games that following year. We didn't know it at the time, but now we all know in our fifties that there is something very special about a perfect season at any level of competition in any sport." The young Hurricanes will have the opportunity to experience that rare accomplishment if they remember their tough teamwork ethic this coming Saturday. They know the Highlighters are well coached and always compete.
Several things about the old Dolphins remind Miley of his kids. "First of all, they were all very bright and they bought into Shula's discipline and winning philosophy, as well as strategies loaded with innovations and preparations for players to adjust on the field with their own decisions. And they worked hard in the heat. I tried to bring a strong mental side to our kids' field decisions by incorporating a heavy emphasis on pressure passing drills And conditioning with plenty of warer breaks. Instruction happened during water breaks. Decisions under pressure require a lot of reps to become automatic, and so does field communication. You can't just preach that. The kids need to do that. A lot."
Also, Shula was the league's youngest coach and actually ran with his players in the Miami heat. Miley knows players respond when coaches get into the running and skirmishes with them, at least occasionally. "I had a few coaches like that and we kids always liked them best," he reflects. "Players have to know their coaches care and that they are for real. Our kids bought into a drill-supported teamwork philosophy early, and they are all very bright. I knew we could make a run at a perfect season by Game 3."
When you hear the old Dolphins reflect on the '72 season, you often hear them talking about how they never knew who would step up in a big way, game to game. "It didn't have to be a star," Miley recalls, "because they were a team and they absolutely knew it. That family confidence in one another was the difference, especially in the closest contests. The only goal Ryan Dennis scored so far required a decision to break off a defensive assignment for a long penetrating run through a seam that he saw across over half the field. He understood his green light and took it to the house for the goal that clinched our title in Week 7 ahead of the Rip Tide. That is the kind of team we are, too. We never know who will step up or how, but someone always does."
Like the Hurricanes who played four of their nine matches close with three other squads, the Dolphins won six of their seventeen tighter games by a touchdown or less.
"This is a competitive league for all the players," Miley noted. Spectators can see how both sides in any match show up to play their best and have fun. Nobody shows up just to kick a ball. All of the BSYSL coaches teach skills to challenge each team forward, and the players respond to the work by raising the level every week. In the BSYSL, soccer is great for kids, because every kid gets good playing time under coaches who care about kids as kids, not just players. The level rises for each team as the playing experience adds to each player's skills and confidence. As with any other sport, every successful individual or team needs to get used to that target on their back. Parents know that's how it goes in all kinds of business, not just sports. Kids on successful teams learn to handle that in stride. And parents generally want sports to help their kids in life. Miley is on board with that. "This is an important time for our kids. Of course I want my players to finish perfect, but the Highlighters won't hand that to us. Coach Darren coaches at a school like I used to do, and he believes in excellence for his kids, too. In fact, he was one of the coaches to respond to our challenge by offering to provide three of his players and also coach the All-Stars. Our players respect him for that, as well as his knowledge and sportsmanship. We know his team shows up with talent, experience, desire, and a chance to win any match. We have to remember our own work ethic and continue to compete against who we were to find out who we can become. Our players understand competition is meant to bring out the best from both sides. We want the best anyone can show us. We want the best from ourselves and from our opponents as all the kids grow in character."
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