Aug. 28, 2009
DEKALB, Ill. -
Marking an end to its pre-season training this past weekend, the Northern Illinois women's soccer team traveled to Fort McCoy, a military Total Force Training Center in Fort McCoy, Wis., Aug. 20- 21, to participate in a military-style training session and team-building experience with the Marine Corps.
Fort McCoy is a military training facility which is equipped to prepare and deploy military units for any possible occurrence. The base is located on 60,000 acres of land, and provides field and classroom training to more than 100,000 military persons each year. Fort McCoy also supports civilian training in their facilities, ranges, training areas and classrooms.
Head Coach Carrie Barker chose Fort McCoy to help create different challenges for the team and help with team chemistry.
"We knew this experience would create adversity and different challenges for our team. This experience brought out the best in all of our players," said Barker.
"They were challenged individually and as a team, and they reacted and responded well with this adversity."
The trip impacted the girls as an entire team and set up a team bond that is sure to benefit the Huskies as they enter their regular season. When NIU began its trip, they did not know what to expect; Barker had not informed the team about what they were about to experience.
"We were pretty much blindsided," senior Jamie Sitter said. "Nobody knew what was going on until we got to the base and saw army signs and tanks. We were all excited once we got off the bus."
After arriving at Fort McCoy, the team unpacked in one of the barracks, a huge single room filled with cots, and were instructed to remain there until the coaches returned. Anticipation and excitement resonated among the team as the Huskies waited three hours for the coaches to return. But it was not until the next day that the mystery of what would to come next was put to rest.
"We had a feeling it was something similar to boot camp," said Sitter. "The drill sergeants gave us a wake- up call by blowing whistles. They ordered us to fill up our "water source" and to chug the entire thing. When we finished, they would squeeze the bottle over our head to make sure we finished everything."
Every step of the way the team was surprised by what was presented at the training course. Following the abrupt wake-up call, the team went on a boot-camp style jog that included a fast-paced run through the training course and chanting by the Marines.
The team then broke into two teams to complete a two-part obstacle course. The first part of the course required each team having to carry a fake body through the entirety of the course, which included climbing over 30-foot walls.
The second part of the course was to be completed individually. Each athlete was expected to complete the course individually, however, the team was able to show support and encouragement in the completion efforts, an act of team building.
"We broke up into two teams, so it instilled competition into the experience," senior captain Cara Stutler said. "It was team building, but it also taught other fundamentals that we need to develop as a team and as individuals. The second course challenged you mentally and physically. It was nice because one person would go at a time, but you were able to have the whole team standing there watching you, cheering you on, and helping you out."
Senior goalkeeper Audrey Holmer feels that entire team grew from their experience at the Fort McCoy course.
""Something you just felt from the Marines was the idea to attack whatever obstacle is in front of you," said Holmer, "The entire team did a great job at doing that."
It is apparent in the way each team member spoke about her experience that the training course emphasized team bonding, and allowed the Huskies to grow both as individuals and as a unit.
"The girls came out of this experience a little bit closer as a team," said Barker "They were challenged mentally and physically, and we saw how they reacted to adversity. I believe each person came out with a better understanding of who they are and what they want to become."
Looking back, senior Micaela Damas feels the most important thing she experienced was the confidence course.
"When Christen Schuler, who is deathly afraid of heights, buckled down and went through the course that included walls over thirty-feet tall, it made me feel like if she can do that, I can do anything," Damas said. It seems small until you stop and look back on it, and I think we could go through everyone on our team and talk about something great that they accomplished there. I think it helped us to understand each other a lot better."
Training at Fort McCoy helped senior Lisa Maeir gain a new-found respect for those who serve in the military.
"It not only gave us a different perspective for our team, but it gave us a different perspective for the military," said Maeir. "It was a huge eye opener. It was an honor to be there and an honor to sit there and listen to them."
Reflecting on her experience at Fort McCoy, senior Kim Schmitt felt the entire experience will help her as she enters the 2009 season.
"The whole thing was life changing and inspirational. It was team bonding to the "T"," asid Schmitt. "A huge thing we walked away from the experience was a sense of pride from the Marines. They radiated pride for America, and we all fed off that and learned from them. As an athlete we can take that away and apply it to our team. "
Impressed by the unique training experience, Stutler feels she was able to learn a great deal about being a team member from the Marines.
"I think it was cool because a lot of teams do the same type of team building activities all the time," said Stutler. "Training with the military was something different for us. We were able to listen to the stories the Marines shared, and the parallels that run with an athletic team and with a military unit are very similar. The morals that they base everything on are the same; they are all about working as individuals and as a team, and building interaction between those two ideas."
Barker looked back at the experience as something that will help guide the team as they enter the season.
"Players were put in an environment where they had to go out of their comfort zone, and put trust in a lot of people," said Barker. "I'm hoping when we face adversity throughout the season, we can look back and know anything is possible. The whole trip helped the team learn a little bit more about our military, themselves, their teammates, and what they're capable of becoming if they all believe and stay, as the Marines say, Semper Fidelis, or always faithful."