January 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

After slow start, this soccer coach grows with the team

Terry Foster knew little about soccer when he started coaching an indoor high school team. But that changed. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to Detroit News)

Waterford — I knew something was wrong when a bunch of eyes turned my way as I walked into Oakland Yards a few weeks ago with my daughter Celine.

She is a freshman at West Bloomfield High School with her eye on making the varsity soccer team. But a bunch of other girls have the same dreams, and they want to showcase their talents to varsity coach Jason Clark and junior varsity coach Elizabeth Grabill during an indoor winter high school league.

The problem is the real coaches are not allowed to coach the girls in this league. That duty usually falls into the lap of a parent.

Guess who got nominated?

Why me? I didn’t know the girls. I didn’t know their names or their games. And here is a dirty little secret. I barely know soccer. But I am “that sports guy on the radio and in the newspaper.”

That was good enough, and the next thing I know I am on the sidelines screaming for the girl with blond hair to replace the girl with braces and red shoes in my first game as coach.

I was under the impression it was for one game, but when we showed up for the second game, I was greeted with “Good morning, Coach. You did a great job last week.”

Do you remember the story of Mickey Lolich pitching Game 7 of the 1968 World Series on two days’ rest? Manager Mayo Smith said he’d pitch him just five innings and get him out. But after the fifth he told him to go back in for the sixth and seventh and so on. It is the same with me. A one game-stint turned into a full indoor season.

Limited experience

Here is the extent of my soccer experience. I covered the World Cup in 1994 and I’ve watched Celine and my son Brandon, 12, play for the Bloomfield Hills Force and Waza East the last six years.

That’s it.

Now seven games into the season, I am learning the girls and enjoying it. But there were some growing pains. Some girls got sick, injured, bruised and bumped. I really had no idea what was going on as teams controlled the play and peppered our poor goalie with shots.

I grabbed a girl and told her to go in for Sarah.

“I am Sarah,” she said.

The other team scored again. I felt like a failure.

Let me be honest. I did not think we could turn it around because it appeared that other teams had more athletes than we did. But I studied every player on our team, saw what she could do, and my attitude changed about them.

Sometimes a turnaround happens simply because you get to know somebody.

The girls needed a game plan to follow, which I did not provide early in the season.

Move one was to concentrate my club players at midfield rather than spread them all over the field. The goal was to control the middle of the field.

Here is the skinny on high school soccer: You get three levels of players. There are girls who play high level club soccer. Some play low level club soccer, and the third group plays in the backyard with friends and family.

But all three groups have dreams of playing varsity someday, and my job is to showcase their talents so the real coach knows what he’s got before tryouts in March.

We lost our first four games by a combined score of 11-0. My goal was simply to get the ball across midfield. After the fourth game I was in my basement thinking about how I could make the team better. I borrowed a little something from other sports and other players and came up with a new game plan.

We play a loose version of Scottie Bowman’s left-ing lock, for which midfielders must defend and attack at the same time.

I borrowed a saying from Ndamukong Suh’s sister Ngum, who played soccer at Mississippi State. Every time a girl gets the ball I want her to say to herself, “What do I see?”

Do I see a pass? Do I see open field? Do I see a shot on goal?

And then I borrowed from Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who always looks cool behind the bench even when he is steaming inside. So when a girl gets sick or injured, which has happened three times already, I realize I must attend to the entire team.

Winning streak

The new strategy worked. We controlled the middle and won our next two games by a combined 5-0 score to carry into last Sunday’s game against Lake Orion East, a team that crushed us earlier, 3-0.

I told the girls this was a game to measure how far we’ve come as a team.

The game plan was simple. Midfielders control the middle, forwards crash the net and defenders needed to be conservative and boot the ball as far away from the net as they could at the first signs of trouble.

And the game belonged to the goalie. She has the green light to tell people what to do.

The result was a 4-1 victory over Lake Orion East.

“This is the best game I’ve ever seen you play,” coach Clark told them after the game.

That was great to hear. Now I am all in as a coach. People are getting better and I am learning their names. I see smiles and I view the team differently than I did a month ago. It has been a growing experience for all of us.

Go, Lakers!

terry.foster@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1494
twitter.com/TerryFoster971

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