Taking over for a long-time head coach and maintaining his success is never easy, but John Constable, the head coach of the NSU’s women’s soccer team since January, is going to make the most of this opportunity he’s earned.
He’s already beaten the odds and had incredible success at his previous program, Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a region less talent-rich than Florida.
“We built something incredibly special there,” said Constable about his previous program.
“It was an athletic program that was struggling across all sports. We brought in a group of players that believed in the vision that we had, and it seemed like a distant dream at the time, but slowly but surely, we got there. We moved from two wins to seven to nine to 15 wins and a conference championship, and I don’t think anyone anywhere in Division II athletics would’ve thought we could’ve done that in the period of time that we did.”
While Constable’s old team relished in their underdog status, there’s no doubt that the pressure of coaching in the Sunshine State Conference—which had three teams in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Preseason Top 25 poll—is going to affect him.
“I felt real excitement coming in here because I had earned an opportunity to work at such a fantastic institution. I knew I was taking over from a good coach, and I knew I was taking over a pretty good program, and the challenge for all of us is to turn pretty good into exceptional,” Constable said.
Constable, a native of Coatbridge, Scotland, crossed the Atlantic to play Division II soccer for Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN, where his team ranked No. 1 in the nation and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer National Tournament in 2004. He then graduated from Seton Hill University in Greensboro, Pa. before he was hired as an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s teams of Delta State University, making the Sharks the fifth DII soccer program that he’s been a part of.
He’s noticed an important part of soccer in Florida compared to the other places he’s played and coached.
“The big difference is just the athleticism here. The players seem to be that bit bigger, faster, stronger, more powerful, more athletic. Athleticism can be a key factor when it comes to success at this level,” Constable said.
He started the pre-season with a new, annual team-bonding competition called the Shark Olympics to help form relationships between the team’s 10 newcomers and 19 returners.
“Two separate teams, lots of fun soccer stations. We added bowling to it and goal-celebration contests. It’s a whole lot of fun, and the players enjoy that tremendously,” Constable explained. “It’s a lot of fun, but it’s highly competitive at the same time, and the players had an absolute blast doing it.”
Constable and his staff have put a lot of work into getting the word out via social media, updating the team-specific Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram profiles frequently, with exclusive post-game interviews, behind-the-scenes photos, and even wishing his players a happy birthday.
“I just think that the more positive marketing that you can get out there, it’s only going to help the program. It’s good for the players,” said Constable. “They like to see themselves online. And it actually helps to create a bond, and it helps us connect with the parents. We know that at the end of the day, they only love their daughter and they care about their daughter, and if we can help them see their daughter a little bit more often because were constantly posting stuff on social media, then that’s good.”
The team also held three ID clinics, a day in the life of an NSU soccer player, for potential Sharks over the summer in which current players served as camp counselors. The camps were resoundingly well-received, attracting a total of 340 attendees from across the country.
Constable mostly attributes the success that the team has had so far to the recruiting that his predecessor, Michael Goodrich, had already done when he was hired. But his team-bonding efforts in getting this talented group of players to play together toward their common goal, despite a down 2014 season, will certainly have an impact, as well.
“When I first got here, we had individual meetings with [the players] and learned more about them through practice, but when I got here, there were already seven committed who Coach Goodrich brought in, so there wasn’t really that much flexibility. We did end up bringing two in last-minute, but that was more because we lost a couple at the last minute and we replaced them. If we’re looking at my own recruitment, that will really kick off for fall 2016 with the class we’ll bring in then.”
Constable will be looking to the seniors, who make up approximately a third of the team, to provide leadership for the freshmen and help shape the culture.
“We spoke about that in the first team meeting,” Constable said. “My opinion is the team will only be as successful as the upperclassmen leadership we’ve got in the locker room. On average, a coach is with them two hours a day. They’re around each other a lot more than that, and ultimately, freshmen are going to follow the seniors, and they’re either going to follow bad habits or they’re going to follow good habits.”
Culture is actually the first thing that Constable looks for in a potential recruit, even before he sees them on the field.
“I need to think they’re going to be a good person,” he said about a player he’s considering signing. “If you’re really going to be successful, you must have a phenomenal culture, and in order to have a phenomenal culture, you must have good people that want to be team players, that want to work hard, that want to get the job done in and out of the classroom, that respect their teammates, so it’s not just about them being good soccer players.”
Photo Credit: COURTESY OF M. GALLNER