My trip to Duke was exceptional! My first stop was the campus cafeteria, which looked like a mall with multiple levels connected by escalators, with every kind of cuisine imaginable. After a sushi lunch with the assistant coaches of the men's and women's soccer programs, I took a tour of their athletics facility and joined the head coach, Robbie, in the meeting room, where the team was doing a pre-training meeting before their session. In these meetings, the coaches discuss their goals and focus for the upcoming training session in an academic lecture format with interactive presentations and tons of details.
The training session I watched was phenomenal. I was so impressed by their speed of play, the constant, loud communication between players, and how players took ownership of the session. The word that comes to mind when thinking of this squad is competitive. These women are fiercely competitive, pressuring ferociously when they need to win the ball back. Their competitiveness does not, however, affect their ability to share the ball, and their ball movement illustrated a team mentality of breaking the lines (defensive, midfield, even attacking) of their opponent. I left the session impressed and, while the coaches were happy, their standards are so high that they still had some critiques in preparation for the next session.
Speaking with some of the players, I learned that they felt their level of competition and intra-squad competitiveness was the thing they loved most about the Duke program. It was fantastic to hear that they were at peace with this very demanding atmosphere, which indicates a deep understanding and buy- in of the expectations and culture at Duke; that one must earn the right to play is clearly ingrained. I saw everyone competing at their highest level regardless of playing time, with positive body language and checked emotion. The women I spoke with described their ideal teammate as confident but not cocky, an extremely hard worker, and a supportive teammate. High standards, indeed! When asked to choose between a talented teammate or a hardworking teammate, the women unanimously chose the latter, underscoring yet again their tremendous respect for a high-quality work ethic. I left Duke with a great understanding of how mentally and emotionally strong players heading to Duke must be; their reputation is well-deserved. Robbie, Carla and Erwin have created an environment in which their players will go on to be great leaders and great women who are confident and supportive, while pushing each other to go farther.
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Chris Bart-Williams is the founder and owner of CBW Soccer Elite. After an extensive career in the English Premier League, Chris now uses his vast soccer knowledge to assist families throughout the college recruiting process and prepare players for the mental and physical challenges of collegiate soccer. You can reach Chris at email@example.com.