In a time when it is very easy to look at the bad parts of life, men’s soccer coach John O’Connor is focusing more on the good that has come in this time of adversity.
“The silver lining in this (pandemic) has been that we have been able to train at times when we haven’t been able to in the past,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor pointed to being able to practice in the fall, with no stress of games, allowed his younger players to continue to develop their soccer skills.
The team is on the younger side, having brought in 12 freshmen in the fall.
The pandemic has allowed O’Connor and his staff the ability to slow down how they train to allow for more moments of growth from his players rather than talking strategy.
“In the fall, we were able to teach more. In pre-season we can always teach, but once you start playing mid-week and weekends, there is not much teaching going on,” O’Connor said about the difference from a normal fall season.
Normally in the fall, the players come back to campus in the middle of August to start preparing for a season. Once games start, the focus is more on strategy and game planning takes precedent over teaching to improve skills.
That time to focus just on skills has allowed younger players to become more comfortable in the transition from high school to college soccer.
“We really got to know each other. We got to know the way that O’Connor wants us to play because he plays a complicated system. But being able to sit back and slow down was easy for us to understand,” forward Charlie Cisneros said.
Even though the team was able to slow down, the level of play did not decrease.
“The players have been able to maintain a competitive level of play during practice,” O’Connor said.
But players say while they were psyched to even be practicing, it wasn’t the same.
“I would’ve liked to be able to compete because putting it into a game is a lot different than in practice,” Cisernos said.
With the easing of some restrictions and increase in testing, fall teams including men’s soccer and women’s soccer can compete against teams this spring semester.
O’Connor is interested to see how the spring season goes and getting back to a normal schedule in terms of preparing for teams.
“We are going to play a game, evaluate through video, try to make adjustment for the next game,” he said.
“For the young guys, they have grown in the fact that they know what their responsibilities are,” O’Connor said.
Without the aspect of games, younger players have been able to learn what the program expects of them, not just on the field, but in the weight room as well as in the classroom.
Another silver lining for O’Connor is the ability to play competitive games this spring.
“They are going to figure out what the competition is like this spring, so this freshmen class will be more prepared coming in the fall for a full season where you are trying to win a championship,” O’Connor said.
Bu the days are still challenging, he warned.
“The unknowing has been the hardest part,” he said, adding that he just never knows if someone is going to test positive.
The team has had to deal with that, like other sports, having to pause due to COVID issues.
But O’Connor went back to silver linings when talking about how the challenges of COVID has made the players better at holding each other accountable.
“Our young guys have matured quicker. We have been able to spend more time together. We get to know each other better, which has caused our guys to communicate more and better with each other,” O’Connor said.
The communication was what O’Connor focused on in holding teammates accountable to make sure they are doing the right things off the field to make sure they can continue to compete with other teams on the field.
Being able to compete again has players on the team ready to see if their training paid off in the fall.
“We are really excited. Even though the games do not count toward anything, we are still nervous. But having OC and the older guys there to help us it makes all the freshmen feel ready,” Cisernos said.
The team is expected to face off against Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire on April 8 after coming out of a team pause. You can stream the game at castletonsports.com to support all Spartan athletes.