WSoccerIt's 1:30 p.m. on game day and with Rascal Flats' "Fast Cars and Freedom" blasting from her iPod, sophomore Shannon Fitzgerald, a fullback and midfielder on the women's soccer team, begins her stretches. On this particular fall day the team is undefeated in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and pressure mounts for another win. After donning her jersey, shin guards, socks, ankle brace, and cleats in that order, Fitzgerald, of Amesbury, Mass., finds a quiet space away from the rest of her team. "I always take a moment alone," she says. "I pull myself away from the chaos and pray to God to keep myself as well as my teammates injury free."

She rejoins the other players and her coach in the Alfond Center for a pep talk and overview of game tactics before heading to the field. During pre-game warm-ups, as her muscles begin to loosen, an electric tension on the field grows as the clock counts down to the 3 p.m. start time.

When she enters the game, Fitzgerald picks one thing to focus on. For instance, if she knows the opposing team boasts an extremely fast forward, she'll repeat, "I will not let her beat me!" to herself. Another way she prepares is to focus on an admired player. "Before we step onto the field, I always think of a professional athlete to model from," she states. Most recently, Fitzgerald concentrated on Carla Overbeck, captain of the 1999 Women's World Cup championship team known for her talent and her ability to motivate her team.

Motivation plays a large role in game preparation, and there's no doubt Fitzgerald is motivated. She had to sit out two years in high school because of injury but came back her senior year. "We want to win the GNAC championship!" she declares. "Every time we step on the field it's because we simply love the sport, but beyond that we want to achieve something as a whole, something bigger than ourselves."

The other side of game day

On game day, women's soccer coach Michael Bolanz '00 carefully chooses a quote from a collection he's compiled over the years and prepares a pep talk for his team. He waits patiently while the athletes change and do their pre-game workout in the gym before he gathers them in the second-floor classroom of the Alfond Center.

"I talk myself through the pep talks beforehand. The ones where I wing it don't end up quite as inspirational," he says, laughing.

Following the pep talk, he goes over the game plan and tactics. He closes with an inspirational quote for his players, such as, "Attitude: I am convinced that life is 10 percent of what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it. And so it is with you." After that, he leads the team to the field for dribbling, passing drills and a general warm-up.

"The one ritual thing I always do is put my soccer cleats on when we get to the field," the coach notes. Bolanz asks his players to prepare mentally as well as physically. He assigns journal entries covering topics such as "How do you prepare yourself for a game?" The personal reflections help the players examine their motivation and goals, preparing them psychologically for competition. By considering the players' performance and mental preparation, Bolanz chooses starters for each game. "I try to make sure the players I put on the field are going to give us a strong start that the players on the bench can carry on later in the game," he says of his method.

Following suit with his emphasis on personal growth, Coach Bolanz states that, "I'd love for [the athletes] to become better soccer players, but what I want is for them to become better people." He regards his job as an influence on his players' views off the field as well as on it. Of course, they all have their eyes on the win at the start of a game. "But there's always a bigger picture," he concludes.

by Sadie Fenton '10