Divided into two teams, yellow and green, the girls began practice without competing against one another— they simply moved the ball through different gates to a teammate on the other side.
There was only one catch: the ball couldn’t stop moving.
Because of this, the girls had to diagnose the field and raise their overall awareness so that they could move into space and make safe passes to their teammates.
As practice went on, Pulliam took the game up a notch, allowing the teams to compete against one another in 4×4 and 5×4 matches that forced players to defend the other team in an attempt to prevent them from reaching the gamewinning ten points.
But it was easier said than done. While the players demonstrated a more complex and appropriate use of turns—a focus of Pulliam’s this summer practice season—extra coaching was needed for them to understand field position and awareness.
After three games, however, the two teams showed a marked improvement.
Pulliam, who watched the details of play, noted the girls’ ability to quickly learn and apply their new knowledge to the game.
The long-time coach’s focus on technique and strategy has proven to be successful since his return to Troup County. After taking over the LaGrange boys soccer team, Pulliam was able to effectively double their offensive production. His summer Sea Turtles teams placed in nearly every competition, even beating Atlanta United teams to take both of the top-two spots in their second tournament— despite many of the players having less than a month’s experience in 3×3.
Pulliam’s fresh coaching style focuses more on both the mental and physical sides of a player’s development and has even caught the attention of his players.
“We’re developing,” said Natahley Sabens of the AFC Lightning Troup returned to practice this week on Monday, August 6th. Though AFC usually holds practice Tuesday and Thursday, the club added an extra day Monday after not meeting last week due to thunderstorms.
The teams had their first scrimmage against AFC Peachtree City early last month before starting their summer practice schedule.
LaGrange High Coach Shane Pulliam, DOC, serves as just one of the many highcaliber coaches on the AFC staff. Pulliam noted that one of his goals as DOC was Athena C girls team. “We’re going over technical skills, such as how to do our turns better and juggling.
Emma Maradik, a sixyear soccer veteran playing for the girls team, agreed.
“I think it’s a lot more technical than we’re used to,” she said speaking of the team’s practices so far. “It’s a lot more professional.”
Maradik, who plays goalkeeper, left defender, and offense, began the evening with goalie practice. While she said she likes playing offense the most, she also accomplished as all teams participating this year are led by either professional college coaches or other big-name players—Academy teams excluded.
Included on the AFC staff this year are Point University Head and Assistant Soccer Coaches Jonathan Lenarz and Mark Wozniak, former LaGrange College Head Coach Matthew Evans, and a former player of Pulliam’s who was both the top scorer on his high school team and at university, among others.
Pulliam, who coaches the Athena C girls team, enjoys the challenge of playing goalie against a good team.
“As goalkeeper you get more touches and more time with the ball against a good team than most players do,” she said.
Eva Arrington, a forward on the team, echoed her teammates’ opinions.
“It’s better, and it’s better for us,” she said of the team’s recent practices. “This coach makes us learn.”
“Always work hard,” she finished.
Kelsey Burks, a mid-defender who credits her father spent Tuesday’s practice teaching his players different strategies and techniques that are needed to be successful in the game.
The goal, he noted, was to develop the girls as players. By understanding the game better, the team would be able to think more quickly on their feet, make better decisions, and, importantly, make them in such a time that the play would benefit the team.
In order to do this, Pulliam started Tuesday’s practice with a game that involved the girls passing a ball through a series of different two-cone “gates.” with getting her into the sport, said the smaller space used during practice “really makes one have to work.”
“But I really like it because it’s fun,” she said, adding, “You learn at the same time.”
The team will compete in an upcoming scrimmage this Saturday at the Troup County soccer complex.
The author of this article can be reached via email at info@troupcountynews. net.