As a first-time credentialed sports writer, I am bumping into first’s almost daily. I recently had my first press conference. My first question asked and answered at a press conference. And my first question laughed at by a pro soccer player. But I’m getting better. Practice makes perfect.
And that doesn’t just go for writers but obviously for soccer sorts too.
So on Tuesday, April 25th, 2023 I watched my first practice session open to the media for 13th Man Sports. And while I don’t believe anyone is perfect, practicing definitely hones those skills. I can attest to that after this session.
I took my perch up high in the empty seats at the Coffee Grounds (aka Tim Horton’s Field) and watched Bobby’s Boys get at it. And watching the players from a bird’s eye view was, well, eye-opening.
It seems obvious, but just practicing the basics is so important. Forge players ran identical passing drills involving four players at a time, split over two halves of the North End of the stadium while the media looked on. Running around obstacles, one-touch passes, deft control, and seamless movement. And no voices. The singular human sound was coach Bobby getting what he wanted out of the session. The movements were repeated over and over. A reminder of what it takes to be a player at this level.
And Bobby’s voice is steady. No highs or lows. None of the screaming that makes Hollywood coaching montages so entertaining. Bobby lays out what he wants. The players deliver, again and again. It is only after the ‘basics’ are all covered, and the tasks become more involved, that other voices start to be heard.
As the drills become more complex, the communication picks up by levels. At first what seems like a cacophony of discordant voices turns in a symphony of movement. Four balls in play at all times, but everyone moving in the individual manner expected of them.
Calls for the ball. “One-touch”, “Go,go,go,go,go”, “Here”, “There”. Single sound sentences communicating all that is needed for each attack. An education for a rookie reporter.
And then – just like that – the moves that were practiced so diligently are turned into game simulation. 10 v 10 on a shortened field, and all those passing drills become game-time situations. The intensity builds, and the competitive nature of the boys shows. Win every ball. Make meaningful runs. See the passes before they are visible. And now the voices are the players’ only. And there are screams and shouts to remind each other of the moves expected. Still Bobby and Coach Edgar are steady. Only occasionally offering suggestions. They seem to be more focused on what is working or not and filing it away for the next break in play. And sure enough the break comes, and Bobby teaches. His voice can’t be heard clearly from the stands. It is still calm. The players protestations are louder (ones directed at each other, not the coach). But Bobby gets across what he wants, and it is back to the game.
The game is not quite Forge vs Cavs, but it is more intense than one would have expected. The boys demand a lot of each other on the pitch. And that’s when Bobby’s approach becomes clear. He puts the team in the position to succeed. But he leaves it to the boys to hold each other accountable. This practice is a microcosm of Forge’s existence in the CPL. It is starting to make sense why Forge find themselves in Finals year after year. They are built for it. One session at a time.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Practice makes (almost) perfect.
I had the opportunity to speak to a few Forge players and staff members briefly after practice. Here’s what I got:
Jordan Hamilton, Forward – When asked about the upcoming trip to Starlight Stadium, “We need the three points, right. We got two draws to start the season in games where we kinda showed our resilience and climbed back into [them]. [But] yeah I think those three points are needed.” And he also offered a really interesting take on playing on the island. The greenery (specifically its oxygenating benefits) and typical weather conditions make for a really good gameplay experience. You learn something new every day. And while Jordan wasn’t about to go making any predictions, he stressed the importance of early season points and getting to the top of the table.
Miles Green, U-Sports Draft Pick – When asked what it means to be practicing with Forge, “It means a lot…I’m never someone who assumes things, so I kinda wait for things to happen and then appreciate them. I just wanted to come out here, see if I could fit in and enjoy the environment. The fact that I’m still here is something that I appreciate and I’m happy to be here.” Green didn’t look at all out of place with his more experienced colleagues, but he did mention that the biggest differences between Forge practice and his University and L1O days. He pointed out a few: The quality of every player is really high, the speed of play, the physicality, and finally, the capacity to run is a lot higher.
I think it is safe to say, when footy is your job, fitness levels are maxed out.
Jelani Smith, Head of Soccer Operations – I had a lovely talk with Jelani behind the scenes. But I’ll save that for the future interview we’re planning. But he had some interesting takes on the early season so far, and some of its challenges.
And finally, some bonus coverage of what I saw in practice. Ashtone Morgan’s crosses and movement down the wings are dreamy. Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson can spray long diagonals with ease. There are a lot of guys having fun doing their jobs. And if Garven Matusala is not the happiest man on earth then I’ve lost a bet! Smiles for days!
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