Instead of running his usual youth girls soccer camp this summer, four-year Southington coach Mike Linehan is changing it up. In collaboration with Southington Soccer Club (SSC) President, Walter Swanson, who is also his assistant coach, Linehan is conducting a feature week that will include a clinic for all girls teams in the SSC.
The clinic will be held at the high school from Monday, June 11 to Friday June 15. Linehan and Swanson will receive help from other staff members and current players from the high school’s girls soccer team. Every day of the clinic will feature a different age group of the SSC.
Linehan said that he plans to introduce the SSC girls to all of the coaches and players on the high school girls soccer team, as each group will be paired with a member of the high school team, and dress them in the program’s training gear so that they feel like they’re part of the program. A typical session of the clinic will include possession drills, technical training, and small and large-game activities.
“That’s the normal transition that I’ve to give someone technical to learn,” said Linehan. “Then I asked them to take that learning into a small game. Sometimes, you can’t always take that into a big game until you’ve learned how to do it in a smaller environment.”
Linehan said that he and Swanson have always believed that someone’s high school career actually starts in the club.
“If you look at what a high school player is today, it’s really a result of where they started playing soccer,” said Linehan. “If I wait until they’re freshmen, I’m too late. The kids will either go play another sport or for another high school.”
Swanson said that it was once thought that you had to play at the highest level in youth soccer, in order to play at the high school level and field a good team. He said that many Southington girls were traveling out of town to split up and play in different towns, and once they came together at the high school, they had no idea how to play together.
Swanson said that he and Mike certainly don’t think that playing together is the be-all and end-all, but it’s the piece of the puzzle that they believe is important to the strength of the high school.
“If we can build the chemistry together, players will get to know each other and the coaches,” said Swanson. “A lot of our teams are good, not because we have superstars, but because they know how to play together.”
Linehan was the vice president of the SSC two years prior to stepping down last fall. He and Swanson have been working together over the past several years in creating a partnership between the SSC and the high school girls soccer program, and the recent success of the SSC is slowly translating to the high school girls soccer program.
After missing the Class LL Tournament in Linehan’s first two years at the helm, the Lady Knights qualified for the state tournament for the first time under his leadership in 2016. The team exited the state tournament early with a loss in the first round, but they returned for a second-straight year in 2017 and advanced as far as the second round.
The recent success of the high school girls soccer program is certainly no secret, but their relationship with the SSC is only getting stronger. This past fall, 35 freshmen showed up for tryouts for the high school’s girls soccer program. Linehan said that it was the largest freshman group he’s had in his tenure at the high school.
“It doesn’t go without notice,” said Linehan. “Every one of those girls played in the Southington Soccer Club at some point in their careers.”
Linehan said that his appreciation is coming back to the club this year to work with every team from the SSC. It’s also a way that he can help these girls understand who he is and what he stands for.
“I’m going to give them some training, yes, but we’re starting to build that relationship between the high school and the club so that these kids have something to look towards,” said Linehan. “The younger kids will have a stronger bond with the high school over the next four or five years before they actually enter the high school.”
With a declining attendance over the last few years, Linehan said that he will not be holding his summer camp anymore and plans to run this clinic every year going forward.
“The community told us that they’re looking for something different,” said Linehan. “Kids and parents are very busy during the school year, and when the summer hits, camp is not necessarily a high priority as it once was.”
Linehan said that there will be no charge to attend the clinic. Anyone is welcomed to join, and you don’t have to be a member of the SSC.
“The value of being a part of the club is that they’re getting that one week of camp included in their registration fee to play for the club,” said Linehan. “Our audience is out to ever young lady in Southington, whether they’re a part of the club or aren’t playing soccer at all in town.”
On average, Linehan said that the SSC ranges anywhere from 10 to 15 girls teams from season to season, depending on the amount of girls that sign up. Ages range from nine to 17.