NORMAN — Riding a two-game losing streak, most coaches would have their teams on the practice field going over drills for hours. Pounding out the mistakes and miscues.
But Oklahoma soccer coach Matt Potter had a different philosophy he wanted to try out. Instead of going over their next opponent, Wednesday he took the entire team to the OU tennis courts for a friendly competition. Even though they were coming off losses to No. 10 Florida and No. 2 Florida State over the weekend, he felt the best recipe called for a little unconventional fun.
“Obviously, we are coming off a long weekend and, on campus, the first waves of tests are coming around and they are studying hard, too,” Potter said. “So we don’t need to overload with information. This is a way to do something constructive, to still compete. We are obviously having our own U.S. Open here.”
The players paired up into various doubles teams and competed for an imaginary title.
Instead of the Sooners worrying about their struggling offense, there was a lot of laughing and joking taking place. But there was learning going on, according to Potter.
“Ultimately, I think it’s good sometimes to remember and be humble about doing something you are not too familiar with,” Potter said. “We are trying to learn about each other and this is maybe a different way to show the importance of that. That you have to have an open mind and you have to have fun.”
Potter didn’t explain the method to his madness to the team until after they had concluded the tournament. He wanted them to just focus on having fun while competing.
“It was an experience,” Madison Saliba said. “Abby Hodgen was my partner. We were 0-3. But that’s OK. We made a good effort. It was fun. It was a little time off, kind of. So it was good. Helped us to open our eyes to new things and don’t forget to have fun with stuff and work hard at the same time.”
However, Saliba said the biggest lessons the team discovered took place in Florida when they lost a pair of heartbreakers to top 10 teams.
“I think we learned how to play together and how to play through being tired,” Saliba said. “And not getting discouraged after the game on Friday and going into Sunday with a good mindset. I think that was learned this weekend. We needed that to actually happen and be in front of us to learn it.”
Potter was also upbeat by what he saw from his Sooners in their defeats to the Gators and Seminoles.
“I was very encouraged by the performances,” Potter said. “We played two teams that are in the top 10 in the country for a reason. I was very pleased with the individual effort of players. We didn’t stop working. Collectively we talked about some lessons learned, to create and have scoring opportunities against some of the countries elite. The signs are very positive.”
The Sooners (2-4) return to action this weekend with a pair of home games at John Crain Field. They will face Oral Roberts at 7 p.m. today and North Texas at noon Sunday.
Potter hopes the team is ready to put the lessons they have learned to use for a full 90 minutes when they step out on to the pitch and not just the tennis courts.
“Coming out here today is another opportunity to remember we still got to be open-minded to new learning and that’s the important thing,” Potter said. “We just have to remind them of what they are good at. In reminding them of what they are good at, they then learn how to blend those good pieces with other people who have good pieces. I think that’s more of our issue, trying to do too much. Today, where it’s an uncommon skill like playing tennis, they stick to what they do know and they stick to simplicity. Sometimes less is more.”
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