Illinois head coach and U-20 assistant coach Janet Rayfield spent two weeks with the squad in Panama, helping lead the U.S. to an undefeated mark in five games.
March 14, 2012
Illinois head coach Janet Rayfield recently returned from the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, where she assisted the U.S. U-20 squad in its championship run from March 1-11. This is part one of a two-piece reflection, with sophomore Vanessa DiBernardo's recap of what it was like to be a player in Panama, one of only six midfielders from across the country chosen to participate, still to come.
2012 CONCACAF World Cup Qualfying - Panama City, Panama
A Coach's Perspective
The first thing you should know is that the original intent was to correspond on a regular basis and provide a "blog" for the Illini fans to follow the experience in Panama as it happened as I did this summer in Germany for the Women's World Cup. Well, I learned one difference between coaching and scouting right from the beginning - time demands. There just wasn't a spare moment to sit down and pen thoughts of the day or previous days as there was constant preparation for the day or days ahead. Don't misunderstand me though - I enjoyed every minute, every day and night and even early morning hours previewing, reviewing, analyzing and preparing. It was a synergistic group (a synergy I am very fortunate to return to with the staff I have here at Illinois) full of experience, ideas, knowledge and fortunately for all of us, a sense of humor that made it not just educational, but fun as well.
On The Field
International soccer is a different game and a different set of challenges for a coach and a coaching staff. The environment of five games in 10 days with only three substitutions allowed per game, the goal of qualifying AND winning the CONCACAF Championship, while also preparing to ultimately win a World Championship down the line made every decision critical. This egoless staff openly discussed and analyzed each decision, and the dialogue in itself was educational. Alongside those decisions, we were kept busy reviewing the games, sharing coaching thoughts and planning training ideas to foster the continued development of these elite but still young and developing athletes.
Off The Field
With winning as the goal, we saw very little outside of our hotel and the fields on which we trained and played, except a respite one-day trip to the Panama Canal. However, you cannot help but experience a little bit of the culture when you spend 14 days in a foreign country.
The almost daily trips to the fields, which included a police escort that would often take our 50-passenger bus down the wrong side of the road so that we did not sit in stand-still traffic, allowed you to see the economic struggles and polarity that exists in the region. Beautiful high-rise buildings reach into the sky in the distance as the bus cruises behind the siren wielding motorcycle, but out the window are rows of tin rooftops, full clothes lines and dilapidated buildings with barred windows and crumbling concrete. Poverty was palpable, yet resting on almost every tin rooftop was a red satellite dish - evidence I felt of the further pressure that technological advances place on those already facing economic challenges. But you could also see nature at work, as each day brought a different view of the coastline. Depending on the tides, we might cross the bridge spanning a vast "mud field" that seem to reach far into the horizon or we might glance out the window crossing that same bridge to witness surfers catching a wave as the ocean crashed ashore.
The trip to the canal provided the ability to also see first-hand the persistent and indefatigable human spirit and the ingenuity that was needed to conquer that same nature and produce a transportation highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. It took a museum movie and lots of discussion of physics to only somewhat understand the workings of the locks, but watching a boat move through each portion seemed less like science and more like a magical human accomplishment. It must have seemed even more so in the mid-1900s.
So once again soccer has provide me with professional advancement, a cultural experience, a new host of friends.