Walking around the Wake Forest campus, I had a sense of déjà vu: the beautiful greens, compactness, and almost tangible feelings of excitement reminded me so much of typical English university grounds. The students exuded happiness and were clearly enjoying themselves as they made their way to class, to meals, to meet with friends and professors, and of course, to practice. It's no surprise that the women's soccer student-athletes enjoy heading to practice, given the world-class facilities and stellar coaching staff. The athletic grounds at Wake Forest are top notch, with two side-by-side impeccable grass fields built for the men's and women's programs. The fantastic kits and equipment complement the state-of-the-art complex: the training pitch and gameday pitch, both immaculate, are separated by the concession stand and locker rooms. The game field features leather bench seating and a massive, dynamic scoreboard. There's simply no getting around it – the Wake Forest soccer facility is of a professional standard. The Wake Forest women’s coach, Tony da Luz, loves technical players who can express themselves and are creative, dynamic and impactful. At the same time, he understands the physicality of the ACC and ensures that, in addition to technical strength, his players are strong physically and mentally. The team's style centers on playing possession, regardless of the team they are facing. This aspect of the Wake Forest soccer program aligns well with Charlotte Soccer Academy’s training and development philosophy and will likely position the CSA girls for future success. The training session I watched at Wake Forest centered on defending – whole-team as well as back-four specific – which subsequently paid off in their victory against FSU later that week. Because many players arrive without enough – if any – education on the basic principles of defending and its techniques, the team spends a significant amount of time each season focused on the topic. This insight offers a crucial reminder for programs, coaches, and players on girls' teams to ensure that they spend equal amounts of time developing both attacking and defending skills.
As expected, the session was extremely intense and fast-tempo; the standards to which Coach da Luz holds his players and they hold each other is high. The girls performed extremely well, demonstrating a great mentality and work ethic. It is clear to see that Tony and his staff believe in a family environment; this is without a doubt a close-knit team. This take-away was cemented by my conversations with several of the players, who expressed how much they loved playing at Wake Forest and noted that Coach da Luz truly cares and is concerned about his players as people, something they appreciate and which differentiates this program from others. The players emphasized, however, that Coach da Luz’s concern for their wellbeing does not undercut his intensity or expectations on the pitch. The girls are completely comfortable with this dynamic, which is certainly a main reason he is able to get so much out of his players. I'd like to thank Coach da Luz and the women’s soccer team for allowing me to observe their session and experience the unique environment of the Wake Forest program. What an amazing time!
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org.