Play, the universal language

On High Schools

October 11, 2005|By MILTON KENT

Tim Lauer occasionally has a problem getting his message across to his Woodlawn soccer team, which makes him normal among high school coaches.

Considering that Lauer has a relative United Nations on his hands, with players from 12 countries on his roster, his infrequent inability to reach his charges is to be expected.

He has found, though, that sometimes the most effective way to communicate isn't verbally, but in the play itself.

"It was tough as first, but as you play as a team in any sport - regardless where you're from or what language you speak - as you become a part of a team, you know your expectations, you know each other's roles, you know where they are out on the field and what you expect of them and the communication almost comes in the play," Lauer said. "Even though you have to verbally communicate, it's almost like the play itself is a communication in its own way."

Whatever Lauer is doing must be working, because the Warriors, who are scheduled to host New Town this afternoon, are off to a 6-1 start, with more wins this year than in the past three seasons combined.

With 10 players returning from last year's 2-9 squad, the players are clearly improved, and a good share of their advancement has to be laid at the feet of their 28-year-old coach, in his first season at Woodlawn.

"We knew the things, but we didn't know how to apply it in the games," said sophomore Kwame Williams. "He [Lauer] taught us, and when we saw how it's really supposed to be used in the games, it picked up from there."

Lauer, a Rock Island, Ill., native who coached two different Arizona high school teams to the state finals in six years out West, found a different situation when he came to Woodlawn in the middle of last year.

The Warriors were found to be of willing spirits, assuming that they showed up for games. Last year, in a game against perennial power Dulaney, only eight Woodlawn players were available, a formula that spelled disaster.

"We definitely set in that a part of being a team is being there for each other for practice and games, so kids are showing up on a regular basis without making excuses," Lauer said. "And I think they understand the expectations that I have for them. You know you need to show up."

Showing up was just half the battle for Lauer. The next step was to get the players to learn the game at a fundamental level, beyond what Williams said they had been doing the year before, which was "kick the ball, run after it kind of soccer."

Of course, having a roster in which only three of your 20 players are from the United States should be a plus in teaching the game, or so it would seem. That's not necessarily true, Lauer found. His kids knew the game from playing in pickup matches, but they didn't know the game, as any basketball or baseball coach will tell you from having to retrain young players who play on the schoolyard or in sandlots.

"It [their playing experience] was like playing stickball or touch football," Lauer said. "It's like, `We're going to choose teams and go. You run this route, and you have your hand out.' It was raw. They're taking it as, `Yeah, I remember when we used to do this and this and this.' Some aspect of it is good, but some aspect of it actually hurts.

"I expected like these guys are really going to click in, but it really was kind of tough, because a lot of them, even though a lot of them had a similar background in soccer to jell them together, their experiences were somewhat different. Because of that, the transition to become a team was a little bit tough in the beginning."

And, then, of course, there was the communications barrier. Lauer has players from Afghanistan, Barbados, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Ghana, Jamaica, Jordan, Liberia, Nigeria and Palestine. Though there's no truth to rumors that the Warriors' budget for interpreters exceeds their clothing allotment, getting a point across can take some work.

"There was a point in time when I thought there was [a communication problem], and I had to literally stop and say, `Here's the deal,' " Lauer said. "Some of them have learned English since they were young, and that's no problem.

"But some of them are still kind of learning it, and I had to stop at one point and say, `We need to realize that if you don't understand it, you can't just shake your head yes. If you don't understand, you have to ask questions.'

"Because they would [nod their heads]. `Does everyone understand?' `Yes, yes, yes,' and then the kid would get up and start running and it was like, `What did I just say?' I've got guys like now say, `You're going to have to tell me again what this drill is,' or, `You're going to have to explain to me what I have to do now.' "

Even with the success Woodlawn is having, there is still work to be done. Unlike other areas, where youth soccer feeds into the area high school, few Woodlawn players are on club teams in the offseason. And, come state playoff time, the Warriors will have to get through Dulaney and Kenwood, then likely deal with Montgomery County schools to have a chance at a 4A title.

"Hopefully, the shock isn't so great for them that it completely knocks them off their heels," Lauer said. "We'll have to see what happens. But as far as what's going on right now, I'm extremely happy. We're having a good time doing it. A lot of kids are learning, which, as a coach, that's ultimately one of my goals. If I can step back and say, `Did this guy learn? Did this guy or this guy [learn]?' I feel like at this point, I can say that. In that, it's a success."

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