June 2, 2009
Rome, Ga. – There is an old adage that coaches preach to their players in hopes of cultivating an insatiable work ethic during summer break: championships are made in the offseason.
This summer, four Shorter College men’s soccer players are taking that philosophy to the next level – literally.
On the heels of helping the Hawks claim the program’s first SSAC regular season title last fall, four Hawks – Mark Beattie, John Calderwood, Kyle Segebart and Sebastian Stihler – are spending their time away from Rome playing for semi-professional clubs across the country.
Segebart and Stihler play in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League (PDL) while rising seniors Beattie and Calderwood are honing their skills in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).
Many of the country’s top NCAA Division I, II and III players as well as leading NAIA student-athletes and former professionals compete in the development leagues, creating an ideal setting in which to polish one’s fundamentals and learn new tricks of the trade.
“Playing over the summer helps to prepare your mind and body for the fall season,” said Segebart, who has started four matches for the Cincinnati Kings of the PDL this summer, his fourth season in the league. “Everyone is talented and you can really improve your own game by playing against a different level of competition in training and in games.”
“It is a great way for me to improve my fitness and performance level,” said Beattie, the Hawks’ team captain and a member of Chattanooga FC of the NPSL along with Shorter assistant Ciaran Traquair. “I get more experience, get to play with older players and get to perform under more pressure with the great fan support.”
From daily training sessions to the actual matches, playing in the PDL or NPSL allows collegiate athletes to experience a true, professional atmosphere.
Most clubs boast their own training facilities, complete with such luxuries as pools and saunas.
Others have massage therapists on staff to promote recovery while some even play in front of sizable crowds in large venues, such as Chattanooga FC and their 20,000-seat Finley Stadium.
Club coaches are often the best of the best – current Division I coaches or former professional managers that give players valuable tips for success both on and off the pitch.
Each added perk sweetens the experience for the amateurs that still have college eligibility.
“It’s great because you don’t have to worry about studies,” Segebart said. “It’s all soccer all the time.”
Stihler, the Hawks’ starting center back, points out another benefit to playing for his summer club, Forest City London based out of Ontario, Canada.
“The set up is amazing here,” said Stihler, who has started every game for FC London this summer. “The coaches are great, we train and play everyday and I get to travel and see many different places.”
Segebart says that playing with professional athletes gives him a different perspective, one that will come in handy when he reports back to Rome in August.
“It’s always a plus playing with pro guys to see how they prepare and take on everyday challenges,” said Segebart. “It’s a bonus to know what it requires to get yourself and your team to the next level.
“The professionalism I have seen is something I plan to bring to Shorter. I have seen the concentration level and maturity it takes in order to carry ourselves the right way and maximize our potential.”
“Playing with guys that are older provides me a unique opportunity to learn,” said Beattie, who at 23 is one of the younger players on his squad. “At Shorter, I am used to being looked up to. In Chattanooga, I get to look up to our center backs that are in their late 20s or early 30s.”
Teams will play two or three times per week, sometimes pitting teammate versus teammate – Segebart’s side recently dropped a 3-1 decision to Stihler’s club – or even American side against international competition.
Calderwood plays right back for defending NPSL champion Atlanta FC. Recently the club hosted the England International 18s and came away with a 1-0 victory.
Atlanta FC has qualified for the U.S. Open Cup in Jacksonville, the first time a Georgia-based team has qualified for the annual event. Their first round opponent will be the Charleston Battery of the USL1 league, the level directly under Major League Soccer.
Playing semi-pro soccer over the summer has its wealth of individual advantages.
Ultimately, however, players take part in order to prime their minds and bodies for one common goal: leading their collegiate teams to the Promised Land come fall.
Segebart hopes that he can translate his individual progress in Cincinnati into wins for the Hawks in 2009.
“We expect nothing less than a trip to California [where the NAIA National Championship is held],” said Segebart. “We want to get to the next level.
“Making it to California is the number one objective.”