Women’s soccer team full of leaders

first_imgAn armband doesn’t usually have any inherent meaning. It’s merely a piece of brightly colored fabric. But, in one place that yellow armband, something otherwise small and meaningless, brings with it power and a great deal of responsibility.On the soccer field, an armband isn’t just the sign of a great player, but more importantly the sign of a great leader. It’s an honor and a privilege bestowed upon only a select few who prove themselves worthy of leading the team: the captain.Now, on the field only one person can wear the armband, as it’s reserved for the field captain. For the Wisconsin women’s soccer team, junior Cara Walls occupies that role of field captain. But what’s both interesting and unique is the fact that Walls only occupies the position of captain on the field. Off the field, she’s not a designated team captain. In fact, not a single person on this year’s Badger squad is a designated captain.It seems odd to be captain-less, but as sophomore midfielder McKenna Meuer explained, the team’s structure made the rather outlandish idea a perfect fit.“I think it’s very rare to find a team that has enough leadership qualities that you don’t even need captains,” Meuer said. “The whole reason you assign captains is so that when things get a little bit hectic or if you have a lot of people that don’t step up then you have those designated people that fill that role. It’s really special to find a team where there’s so many people with so many good leadership qualities that you don’t need to designate that.”Actually, the Badgers were in the process of designating captains during the season’s beginnings as the players voted on who those captains would be for the upcoming season. But following that vote, Badgers’ head coach Paula Wilkins decided to step in and change things up a little.According to Wilkins, democracy in soccer is not something that usually pays dividends. With the players and personalities present on her roster however, democracy was, for the first time in her coaching career, in order.“Well, I came up with the concept or the idea and then I kind of brought it to the team and see what their thought process was,” Wilkins said. “I think we have a lot of different types of leaders and I think that to limit it to one or two people was going to be an issue. And I thought that something different, something to kind of build on and talk about throughout the season, and we’ll see how this goes.”But what exactly made Wilkins and the players agree that having no team captains was the right choice? For starters, the Badgers have 18 underclassmen out of a total roster of 26 players, and only two of the upperclassmen are seniors, Alev Kelter and Nicole La Petina, who both sat out last year – Kelter to focus on hockey and La Petina because of an injury. So Wilkins didn’t have a clear cut choice for captain.However, the biggest part of the decision wasn’t that Wisconsin has an unusually small senior class and an unbalanced roster with only one less freshman (7) than the total of upperclassmen (8). In fact, the decision was based on just how balanced the Badgers are, not in a sense of age or experience, but in leadership ability.“No one is afraid to step up,” Walls said. “No one is afraid to say anything about how they feel, and we all kind of feel like we’re on equal playing fields. It makes it a really fun dynamic for the group.”That equal playing field makes for an equal balance of power that for once isn’t dominated by only a select few players, allowing players to settle into their natural roles.“There’s no hierarchy,” Wilkins said. “They’re all coming from the point is they want the program to be successful and they all have their different roles. I think when they know their roles that’s really important.”Just what those roles are differ from player to player. Regardless, one thing is certain: They are the ones ultimately in charge of the team, captains or no captains.“I always tell players they make the team,” Wilkins said. “I’ll never score a goal. I’ll never make a save. They spend more time interacting with each other than I would ever. I see them at practice and I see them sometime outside but they obviously live together and are in the training room together, locker rooms together, classrooms together. They spend much more time [together] and so they create that atmosphere and I think those personalities really kind of come together and mesh.“I think it’s been their sincerity with each other that has really made a difference.”Any sort of governance always has cons to counter the pros. With no designated leader, there is room for discord and chaos among the masses with a very slight chance of anarchy.But so far for the Badgers, Wilkins’ experiment has gone off without a hitch. The Badgers are 4-1-1, and internally they have had fewer problems than past years.It remains to be seen whether Wisconsin’s success both on and off the field continues, but the unorthodox strategy has proved quite fruitful to this point in the season.While only one armband might be on the field during the game, in reality, that single armband unites the Badgers, which could make for a special season.“We’re all on the same level,” Meuer said. “We all have the same amount of importance on the team and I think that’s really cool and I think ultimately that’s going to be one of the biggest contributors to our success this year.”last_img

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