I prefer being the underdog. But it would be close to impossible to cast our team in that light this season and maintain any degree of credibility. It's always easier to lead when you can create an "us against them" mentality with your team. But this season, realistically, it's "them against us."
Our team has won two straight class AA-A state championships. We have nine starters returning, seven of whom are seniors, and seven of whom made one all-state team or the other. We've begun to receive notice outside of the state -- we will play the team that won the Ohio state "small school" championship game (they were later stripped of the title, under questionable circumstances in my opinion) in a game on Labor Day and our upcoming game against University High (last year's West Virginia AAA state champion) has already begun generating some buzz.
I think many coaches tend to ignore the psychological preparation for themselves and their team for a season. To me, that is the most important aspect of pre-season work for an accomplished and skilled team like ours. If you have a bunch of new or young players, then you need to get a ball on their feet as often as possible. But for our team, figuring out how to deal with the expectations and pressures of seeking a three-peat(c) was paramount.
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be in the position of having to deal with this kind of "problem." But it's easy for people to overlook the time spent off the field that goes into deciding how you will work your way through it, and that how you will handle and train a skilled team is just as taxing, just different, than doing the same for a younger or less talented team.
In the end, my choice was to simply admit that our prospects for the season should be promising and let the team know that it was up to them to decide whether we would achieve them or not. Fortunately, our players are very competitive and have even higher goals than most people would think. Planning how you will communicate with your team can be more important than planning what you will (and won't) tell people outside the team about what you're doing and why.
Although it's still early, so far we've embraced the expectations that we and others have placed on us. We spent a great weekend in Morgantown scrimmaging against some of the best teams in the state, I witnessed the best, most intense scrimmage I've ever seen when we battled University High on a lovely August evening, and we have already avenged our only loss from last season.
|The view from University High's field the evening of our scrimmage.|
There will no doubt be some bumps along the way (in fact, there were some in a scrimmage the morning after the University scrimmage), but the moments we've already experienced this season lead me to believe that sometimes expecting the most from your team, and telling them that, is the best option. Maybe even when it's not the only one.