Every winter break, Stanislaus State women’s soccer head coach Gabriel Bolton reflects on the previous season, evaluates the current state of the program and plans for the future. This winter was no exception.
However, the focus for the team this spring is different. Of course there will be soccer practices, weight training and a full slate of matches against Division I opponents. But the players’ most important opponent will be themselves.
“Over the past few years we have graduated a lot of outstanding players,” Bolton said. “New players are going to have to step up in 2016. While I have no doubt we will make gains on the soccer field and in the weight room, I felt we could make the most growth by focusing on each individual’s mindset”
A major component to this approach has been writing. Each student-athlete on the women’s soccer team is engaged in weekly writing assignments. Some are as simple as journal entries. Others are challenging activities, such as writing a thank-you note to “pressure” or a formal letter to “soccer” describing the impact it has had on their lives. Recently, each player wrote a speech.
“Writing has always been an important part of my life,” freshman goalkeeper Morgan Cruce said. “Now I’m using it as a tool that will help me grow as an athlete.”
In addition to practice and weight training each week, the student-athletes have leadership workshops, team mental skills meetings, individual personal growth meetings with Bolton, and academic meetings with assistant coach Kaycie Hutchins. Writing assignments for the week are developed in those settings.
“Our focus is on them as people,” said Bolton, whose father was a college professor and mother was a high school teacher. “Most of the writing exercises are about our players having a healthy relationship with their sport. Being a student-athlete is what they do but it isn’t who they are. Sometimes that gets lost. We want playing soccer at Stan State to be something that moves them closer to becoming the person they want to become. “
In one recent assignment, the women were asked to write a letter to soccer as if it were a person and it were holding them back. Some players described the pressure they feel to perform. Others wrote about how playing soccer causes them to compare themselves with others or that it is difficult to live up to the expectations of their parents.
“This writing assignment really made the players think about their relationship with soccer,” Bolton said. “I think they were a little surprised at first when I also started to demand proper formatting. But I explained that personal development, academic growth and athletics should all flow together in a college environment.”
The most recent writing task was to imagine December’s end-of-year banquet and write a speech about what they hope the coach or team captain would say about them at the end of the season.
“I learned that I already had some of the performance and moral skills needed to be a good teammate but there were also some that I needed to work on,” said sophomore Jade Poon. “It was a challenging assignment because writing the speech gave me something I now have to live up to.”
Once the initial shock of having to write extensively wore off, the players began to see the value in the approach. Even Bolton’s formatting requirements didn’t seem so onerous. It was simply another growth opportunity.
“The formatting we discussed helped me better organize my thoughts,” said freshman Jaycie Wildermuth. “I’ve seen huge improvements in my mental and physical game because the writing assignments allowed me to process-out internal pressure that I’ve been experiencing.”