Sept. 28, 2019 — The really difficult part in building a soccer program from scratch is behind the scenes, the thing that even the players aren’t aware of.
“I definitely wouldn’t be aware of it if I wasn’t doing it,” Siuslaw soccer coach Londi Tomaro said. She said she got a lot of support from the high school, both with logistics and much needed enthusiasm.
“But scheduling games, ordering equipment, figuring out what we need, where we’re going to play, where’s our field going to be for our home game, what equipment do we need for that, making sure all the kids have all of their boxes checked to be eligible for the school, checking up on everyone, keeping the parents informed…” Tomaro said.
The list went on, added to by assistant coach Nyra Campbell.
“Then you have to store the gear,” she said. “Londi’s entire car is soccer gear. Two ball bags, a wagon, water bottle, first aid kit.”
Tomaro added, “My kids barely fit at this point.
“All the note pads, fitness equipment — all in the car,” Campbell said.
The team was offered a locker at the high school for the equipment, but the team practices at Miller Park, more than a mile away from the school. It’s easier just to stow it in the backseat instead loading it day in, day out.
But all of this is worth it.
“When you step out on the field with the kids, and you’re out there doing soccer with people who love soccer, it’s all worth it. It’s so fun,” Tomaro said. “I just love this game. Just helping mold them in any small way I can with other people who love this game. It’s so rewarding.”
Campbell looked back to the coaches that influenced her life when she was in high school.
“I think about my soccer coach, who I didn’t particularly enjoy when I was on his team,” she said. “I enjoyed my team, and I respected him to no end. But as an adult, I look back and he taught me so much. That joy that I get from being a part of their life. I am helping build characteristics in you that you will forever look back on. You might not play soccer as an adult, but these are skills, communication, talking with your teammates, being a team member, being accepting of others and their difference.”
“Believing in yourself and your abilities,” Tomaro added.
“That’s something you use your whole life,” Campbell continued. “And to be part of that is why I keep coming back.”
Coaching a high school game isn’t just about getting kids on the field. It’s a lifestyle that can become an obsession, built around the concept of building kids into adults. For the kids of the Siuslaw High School soccer team, it’s all about building teamwork.
“You have to form a relationship with the kids,” Campbell said. “They have to form a respect for you, you have to form a respect for them. And then with that, you learn their strengths and weaknesses and then you work with that from there.”
Respect is the cornerstone of the Siuslaw team, the coaches said.
“This is a huge focus,” said Tomaro. “We don’t even allow jokes that are negative. We don’t allow any put downs on the field. Positive team talk is what they’re allowed to use for each other, even when they’re joking. I just call them out on it every time. It translates to them getting along.”
“They respect it,” Campbell added.
“And they respect each other as a team, and play really well together,” said Tomaro. “There’s kids who know they’re not going to get as many minutes in a game. But they’re all on the sideline cheering, talking. Nobody is grousing about it. They’re all playing their role, which we’ve discussed as a team. Some people’s role is to come in from the bench and make a difference when they need to. Some people’s role is to play a position that’s not their first choice, because that’s where we need a player and they can do it. And they all say, ‘Yeah, that’s my role and I can do that.’
One of the biggest hurdles facing any high school sport is getting kids enough playing time, and Campell thought that it would be an issue. However, the kids have always been up to the challenge.
“A player may say all season, ‘Put me in as a forward, I want to play forward.’ Never once have they said a word when we show them the lineup,” she said.
“They tell us what they want, but never with an attitude,” Tomaro said.
“With that said, we also have a really good team,” Campbell added. “We can talk all day about how nice they are and make it sound like they’re not really good at soccer.”
“They’re really good,” affirmed Tomaro, pointing out that the team is 2-0 in the current season. How they got so good is due to multiple factors. First, the kids work hard and love the game.
“For fun, they play soccer,” Tomaro said. “They dribble, do ball tricks. Even if they’re not doing those tricks in the game, they know without thinking about it, where the ball is in relation to their foot. So, if they need to move it one direction or another, they don’t have to think. They don’t have to look. They just know where it is and do it.”
Campbell explained, “There’s a few kids on our team, after practice, they would stay and play ‘till dark. A couple of kids on the field just shooting on the goal over and over. And they’re just playing. There’s no specifics to their game, there’s no actual soccer game. It’s not like, ‘Oh, that kids going to score,’ they’re just playing around.”
They play when there’s a lull in practice, they play whenever there’s a break during practice, they play throughout the summer. These kids are obsessed.
“I say we’ve been gifted some kids that are naturally in love with the game,” Campbell said.
That’s not to say that they’re perfect. The players trust each other enough to pass to one another, but there’s still a timidity about getting the ball. Tomaro pointed out that during the last game, the players rarely went for the ball when it was in the middle of the field, instead opting to try and steal the ball from the other team when it came near to goals.
“Our opponents won the ball 90 percent of the time in our last game,” Tomaro said. “We would just watch, going ‘Why are you not going for the ball in the air? You’re waiting for it to hit the ground and you just lost an opportunity.’ They need to get in there and get the ball. They’re giving them opportunities but they’re giving it away by not making that challenge.”
They won the ball back near the goals, but “it makes our job harder when we have to get the ball back every time, you know? If we win the ball sometimes in the middle of the field, then our defense doesn’t have to work as hard to get the ball back to our offense,” Tomaro said. It’s an issue that they’ve been working on.
And then there’s kicking the ball, which is difficult for any player to master.
“The thought when you’re younger is just get it out of our defense,” Campbell said. “It’s too much of a threat in front of our goal, just get it out.”
So younger players can get into the habit of just randomly kicking the ball out to the middle of the field.
“But as your skills improve, you learn to actually aim for someone, you learn to actually nail the pass,” she said.
When they do learn to pass to a person, aiming is another difficult task to master.
“Sometimes you want to be able to swing yourself around and get the ball to go that way,” Tomaro explained. “You have to run to get to the ball. You’re running this way and you want it to go that way. When you actually hit the ball, you’re sometimes actually in the air, swinging your body and your legs. Sometimes you’re just swinging your leg around. It really just depends on the situation as to what you’re actually doing with your body.”
The interactions on how a player should contort their whole body to make the right kick are limitless. The coaches spend hours drilling situations with the players through multiple strategies from scrimmages to one-on-one time.
“We worked on a drill yesterday where you’re kicking a ball that’s coming to you,” Tomaro said. “And you don’t stop it and trap it, you just kick a moving ball and try to hit a point. You get this in a lot of drills. Kids will be like, ‘Oh, I suck, I’m no good at this.’ Well, that’s why we’re practicing.”
And even though the players can be frustrated, when it clicks, it’s golden. Campbell was working with one student on the basics, showing how to move when kicking.
Watch my body when I kick it, you see the difference?” Campbell recalled telling a player. “‘Okay, so you try it again. You’re still crossing your body, but it’s looking a little better. Just kind of that back and forth until they kick a really good one. Did you feel that? Did you feel the difference?’’”
“Yeah I did!” the student responded.
But kicking isn’t the only task to master in soccer. There are multiple factors involved, which is “where your field awareness helps you,” Tomaro said. “If you know where the ball is, where your team is, and where your team is, when you have to make that split-second decision, you’re not coming up with possibilities. You already have possibilities in your mind, and you’re just deciding which one to use. So, if you’re not paying attention before you get the ball, then yeah, your brain is like, ‘What do I do, what do I do!’”
“At that point, you’re also watching the other team,” Campbell said. “Maybe number four on the other team does the same exact thing every time — and scores every time they do it. Okay, now I have to figure out how to shut number four down. That’s when you say to your bench players that are waiting to go in, ‘Watch the game, stop talking. Number four, when you go in, that’s someone you need to watch.’ It’s a lot of paying attention.”
But the coaching isn’t regulated to just Tomaro and Campbell. Many of the skills the players have learned have been built over the years through programs such as the Siuslaw Youth Soccer Association (SYSA).
“We have a couple of defenders that have played together for at least six years,” Tomaro said. “They know each other’s playing styles really well. When they switch, they know the other one is covering. It’s like a unit out there. And it works. As coaches, we give them tips and try and fine tune that, but what they have already works really well.”
The experience of the coaches is varied.
“They’re just parents that are helping out, and they’re learning things every season. They’re just parents that are just helping out, and they’re learning things every season.”
This is different from the Portland teams, where clubs have professionally licensed coaches.
“Some of our coaches are learning at the same time as our players are learning,” Tomaro said. “Everything is growing in Florence. It’s not just the high school program, the club program is growing too. People are just going to get more knowledgeable, and from that knowledge, you get more skills.”
Campbell added, “In that regard, even if clubs in Portland are asking any parents around, I bet you 90 percent more parents in Portland are more familiar with soccer than they are. Everybody that is coaching here is telling me, ‘We didn’t have this when we were kids.’ I tell them it’s okay, it’s going to be fine. Just keep your kids motivated and have fun.”
And it’s that mixture of coaches, novice and pro, that makes the Siuslaw program stand out.
“They come in with a lot of enthusiasm,” Tomaro said. “They’re just parents that are just helping out, and they’re learning things every season.”
But coaching can be a tradeoff at times.
“I told my husband I hate soccer,” Campbell recalled. “I hate soccer season, something I love is becoming stressful.”
The nightly practices, the lack of car space, the constant worries are everywhere, plus when you get home, “the house is a mess and I have dinner, the kids haven’t done their homework,” Campbell said.
It’s a tradeoff, but still —
“Every practice and every game, none of that ever crosses my mind. It’s my favorite place to be in the entire world,” Campbell said. “I never want practice to end.”