Drew’s Girls Varsity Soccer Team Finds Success Together
Drew’s Girls Varsity Soccer team has amassed an incredible 40–1–3 record on the way to winning two BCL-Central Championships and two CIF North Coast Section Championships from 2015 through 2017. Before a late season loss in 2017, the team had built a 39 game unbeaten streak.
Ask any member of the team about the key to this success and you won’t have to wait long for the answer: “The way we win games is through cohesion,” says 2016–2017 co-captain Sarah ’17. “We’ve reached this point because we have a really well-established team dynamic,” says 2016–2017 co-captain Senna ’18. “I know I can trust my teammates,” says 2016–2017 co-captain Oz ’18. “We’re focused more on doing well together than as individuals,” says Shae ’19.
“You can have a team of great players who don’t win many games because they don’t work well together. We have a team of great players who work together very well. None of us can do this alone: We all need each other.” -Nina ’17
Head Coach Daniel Philpot agrees that winning is a byproduct of trust and togetherness. However, he takes a broader view of the concepts. “Too often people think of trust as something where teams like each other,” he says. “It’s not really that important if you all like one another, but we are a family on the field.”
For Philpot, it’s vital that the athletes buy into working their hardest toward the betterment of the team, without exception. “On the field, they have to be willing to sacrifice for each other,” he says. “It’s a team sport—you win together and you lose together. It’s not about individual accomplishments. That might mean playing positions you don’t like or doing things you don’t perceive as fun in the moment, but it’s in the best interest of the team.”
The program spent a long time in the incubator, losing four consecutive league championships before breaking through to win the last two. “Learning how to win takes a long time,” says Philpot, “but we’ve become a team that recognizes situations and rises to the occasion. We’re going to play our best in the big moments. That’s one of the hardest things to do: play your best in the biggest moments.”
“We are a family on the field.” — Head Coach Daniel Philpot
A meaningful change for the program was instating a weekend retreat right at the beginning of the season. “We go to Santa Rosa and spend a good amount of time together practicing,” says Philpot. “It helps create the bonds of trust, and so we will continue to do it for the rest of time,” he laughs.
“The retreat helps a lot,” says Shae ’19. “When we practice, we’re focused more on working together than on individual skill. We develop as a team rather than players getting better themselves. That happens too, but it’s not the focus.”
Philpot sees the togetherness and trust as byproducts of the commitment the athletes have to holding themselves accountable and digging in to do a lot of hard work to constantly improve as individuals and gel as a team. “At the end of the day, it comes down to holding to high standards and settling for nothing but your best. The girls hold themselves to that and they hold each other to it,” he says before adding with a chuckle, “I have been known to hold them to that, too.”
For many of the younger players on the team, playing with athletes of different ages is a new experience. The leadership of the older players fosters the culture of communication and trust on the team, which helps bring the younger players into the fold both on and off the field. “The older girls are very good at taking initiative, stepping up, and leading the team,” says Zoe ’20. “They’re very approachable. We can talk to them as younger people, and that helps us be close as a team.”
“I remember being really encouraged when I was a 9th-grader at how the captains were excited to have me on the team,” says co-captain Senna ’18. “I hadn’t really been interacting that much with the community, but once I started playing soccer I had a team and I was basically forced to interact. Utilizing my team as a support system, I became more comfortable engaging in school.
“As the co-captain, I work to make sure everybody feels comfortable on the team and in everything we do — that if we make progress, we make progress as a whole.”
“We [the captains] lead by example. We lead by playing well, by communicating, and by setting an example on the field through playing our hardest.” — Sarah ’17
“One of the things that makes this group special is that it’s not only the 13 or 14 who are playing,” says Philpot. “It’s that everyone understands the big picture and what they’re committing to. We have players who didn’t play much and understand that, but they still make the commitment to their teammates to work hard. That takes a lot of maturity.”
A turning point during the 2017 season came after a 39 game winning streak was broken late in the season with a 0–1 loss.
With such a well-defined culture where losing is not in the team’s vocabulary, the mood after the game was somber, with many girls visibly frustrated or even in tears.
“Being able to say ‘I don’t want to feel that again’ was a motivator,” says Philpot of the team’s response to the loss. “They then became willing to do whatever it takes to avoid that feeling. That’s when it became clear that we’ve created a program that hates losing.”
In the event the team loses games this year, the response will be in keeping with the team’s commitment to one another and to being the best. “We’d dig in and work even harder,” says Philpot of hypothetical losses. “In any sport you’re not in control of everything. You can only control certain aspects. If we lost and played well, we’d work harder.
“If we lost because we didn’t play well, well… that’s different. I’m not frustrated by losses when we play well. I’m frustrated when the team doesn’t give 100%. But that hasn’t happened because we’ve committed to always giving 100%.”