For many Islander sports and head coaches, the 2020-2021 season has been one that has measured and tested the ability to adapt and adjust. Even in some ways redefining what it means to coach. While some Islanders will officially return to practice this week, for others like Head Coach Aaron Brooks and the Islanders Men’s Soccer team, the resumption of official practices will have to wait a little while longer.
“We’ve been doing our best to keep our players in shape and prepared for when the season starts,” said Brooks. “When we work out in our camps, we try to make our drills very competitive so that our players stay engaged and working hard. We try to do a lot of one-on-one drill or create some sort of point base drill that keeps them as competitive as possible. The best thing we can do as coaches [is to] give them drills that are both safe and also help our players to continue to get better even in these different conditions.”
The Men’s Soccer team has been meeting weekly in their camp every Friday for the past few months like almost all Islander sports programs have. I asked coach Brooks how he thought the “camps” format had worked out for him and his team. “I think the camps have worked out great for us. We would love to do more, but ISF has given us a great tool and a great place to play. Another great thing about them in my mind is that not only has it allowed for our kids to continue to play and get better in a safe setting, but it has also provided our players with a place to be a kid in a lot of ways. Perhaps the biggest impacts of these camps are that it has allowed players to interact and feel normal again. So it’s been a balance of both developing them as a soccer player and also making sure they’re having fun and enjoying themselves.”
However, according to Brooks, along with attending the Islander soccer camps, many of the players have continued to play with their respective club teams to help stay in game shape. “Lots of our players have continued to play with their club teams this past winter and fall to stay in game shape. Frequently these club teams travel out of state, due to California’s restrictions, and play in games and tournaments in states like Arizona and Nevada. These kids are more attracted to go where games are being played than they are to go to an unknown area.”
Brooks also attributes much of the team’s offseason workout success to his assistant coach Michael Helfand. According to Brooks, who has been with him every step of this pandemic ridden season. “I’ve been extremely blessed to be entering my fourth year with Coach Helfand. We have a great working relationship and often need different perspectives and approaches. We do a great job of bouncing our ideas off one another and reminding each other that we’re here to develop players. He’s been to every offseason session and has made coaching in the pandemic so much easier.”
As it stands, CIF has both Men’s and Women’s Soccer slated in the yellow tier, meaning it still may be sometime before they can resume everyday practices and games. But even so, Brooks remains optimistic that they will have a season come this spring. “I think that with the way the numbers(COVID-19 cases) are trending, we should be able to play games this spring. For Soccer, our normal season start is still about two months away, so we’re still looking ok. Things may look and be slightly different. We may have a modified season where we only play within’ our league, and we may have to start the season wearing masks. But overall, I have to be optimistic for something that I look forward to, but more importantly that my players look forward to as well.”
And when Islander Men’s Soccer returns, Brooks expects his team to be as competitive as ever. “Were one of only a hand full of teams that compete in the open Division level, which is remarkable for a school with our student population. Islander Soccer mentality is to win. We expect to win the league and expect to win CIF every season. Whether we play at the Division I or Open Division level, we expect to win.”