Play-Doh, FIFA Quality Turf and Meeting Plenty of New Faces: NSCAA Convention Day 1

by JJ Duke

There are not many places that I can think of where I would see a combination of the above actually happening. Well, in the span of three hours, I saw a presentation about the specifics of FIFA Turf Quality and what truly determines FIFA Quality Turf from the average turf field, seeing Michelle Akers and UCLA Head Coach Amanda Cromwell making beach houses with Play-Doh and meeting people that I have worked with for nearly two years, but meeting face-to-face for the first time.

The first full day of the NSCAA Convention has been quite a ride for me thus far. First off, even though I went to a college roughly 40 minutes from here, I have found myself lost getting from point A to point B about three times already. Once inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the day went just fine.

First, I learned today that turf and the management of turf is actually a lot more technical than I thought. After hearing a presentation about the FIFA Quality Programme and more specifically, Turf Fields, I learned that there is a huge difference between the average turf and real FIFA Quality Turf. Despite thousands of turf fields spread across this country, only 18 of them have a FIFA Quality Recommendation 2-Star rating. You have to put in real maintenance and care into providing a quality turf field, plus there is the factor that to have Quality Turf, it must come from one of nine FIFA recommended companies. Another cool part of the presentation is learning how FIFA has been gathering opinions from players playing on turf fields. Getting to the truth is so much harder than it seems because of the negative perception they automatically have about playing on it. In one controlled test, FIFA brought a professional team out to a facility, put a blindfold on players and made them do exercises on both grass and turf and recorded their opinions afterward. Of course, the players liked playing on the turf fields more than the grass because of the truer feel.

Later, I found myself at a Team Chemistry and Bonding session in which Amanda Cromwell and Michelle Akers (for those who don’t know, she was one of the key components of the 1999 Women’s World Cup USA Championship team) were featured guests. We learned how they motivated teammates and their players through their individual experiences. Cromwell’s UCLA won the 2013 NCAA Championship and while it may have stunned everyone around the soccer community, the title didn’t come as a surprise to the Bruins. Cromwell said that no matter the role that each of her players had, they all bought into the team philosophy and believed that each individual’s role, no matter how big or small, was beneficial to the team’s success. That was something that a lot of the people in the standing-room only hall took to heart, especially after seeing how her team this year followed that theory to the letter. It was just entertaining to hear Akers talk about her training days and how she and Kristine Lilly motivated on another by telling each other, “C’mon. We gotta beat those [Akers held a long dramatic pauses so as to not curse] Norwegians” during sprinting exercises. Of course, the crowd ate it up and loved every minute of it.

The last session of my day was an NWSL panel that featured coaches from five of the nine teams talking about their roles within each organization. Not much new to report there except that the league season will have 24 games in a five-month long schedule. So it looks like those mid-week games will be here to stay for at least one more season.

For me, the real cool part of today was getting the opportunity to meet people from the soccer community. This is the first NSCAA Convention I have been to and it has been an absolute blast. I am meeting people from all over the US and other countries; learning about their stories and how they have got to the point where they are now. These connections have been great to make for sure and I am positive there will be many more to come. The day was a monumental day because I have met the last two people on the OGM staff that I have never met in person. After two years of emails, phone and Skype calls, texts, and so on with all parties, I have now finally met all the people with the magazine. Some may say that’s strange and odd how that hasn’t happened sooner but I am happy to have finally put a face to a name for all parties with OGM.

Friday brings the draft and more adventures in Philly… and recruiting players for the 4v4 tournament, something that TeamOGM will prevail in, for sure.