You live near the beach, but the quiet environment is not enough to help Margaret Ozasa decode. This is the coach’s burden.
“Lots of sleepless nights as head coach,” University of CaliforniaThe first-year leader joked last month.
After seven years as an assistant coach at Stanford University, Ossa fulfilled a dream of moving into her first position as head coach, leading UCLA to the best start in the program 13-0 and the highest ranking in the country. The Bruins (5-0 Pac-12) travel to ninth at Stanford on Friday in a key conference encounter that also marks an emotional return home for Ozasa, who has been an assistant at Stanford for seven years.
The Bai Aria native said she feels “every emotion I can imagine”. There is pride in returning to its old yard in Palo Alto, and gratitude for the school where it honed its training segments and the excitement of seeing mentors and old friends. There is also sadness: the theme of the match is to raise awareness of mental health in honor of the former Stanford and Newbury Park goalkeeper Katie Meyera player coached by Ozasa and died by suicide in March.
While helping the Cardinal at two National Championships, Ossa learned from Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe how to break up the game and teach it in its simplest form. While moving to UCLA, Ossa wanted to borrow Stanford’s thoughtful decision-making method and structure, but she wanted to give her players freedom.
The result is a streamlined gameplay that works perfectly.
The Bruins are the only NCAA Division I team to not lose or draw, and have overcome a tough schedule that included Top 10 road wins in Duke and North Carolina. They have three consecutive wins in closing and lead the Pac-12 in scoring with 3.08 goals per game.
The players “are in a difficult situation where they play with great confidence, they play with a great deal of composure, but that comes from their willingness to work hard for each other,” Osasa said. “It’s just having that foundation, that trust between the players.”
The players, apprehensive about a change of training, did not blindly trust the new team when he entered in January. The staff even told the players that they would have to earn the team’s trust. Aozasa prioritized building relationships and creating a space for players to get to know each other outside of football. They did cute activities like building towers out of marshmallows and straw and sat for team bonding talks that midfielder Mackenzie Vance said had never happened under the previous crew.
Vance identified an exercise in which players and staff identified themselves as animals based on how they handled conflicts. Black is loud and vocal. Rabbits run away. The porcupine is spiny. Turtles retreat to their shells.
“It gave us a language to kind of use around conflict, which is really cool to help build relationships and build trust,” said Osasa, who identifies as an owl who deals with conflict intellectually.
By spring, the players were ready to share in Ossa’s vision for the program.
“They are just good people,” Vance said last month. “I feel like that’s what we need here on this programme. Someone who is going to take over and show us love and family and still expect us to grind and be 100% every time on the court and that’s what they ask for every day.”
Osasa said the benchmark is so high for the Bruins that even Sunday’s 1-0 close to Arizona was described as “just a poor performance all the way.” The match-winning goal from Sunshine Fonts in the 83rd minute kept the perfect start, but the coach was preoccupied with the lack of discipline the team displayed by abandoning basic habits. Bruins need to do better at Stanford (11-2-1, 4-1-0), as the Cardinals lead 7-0 and outsmart opponents 25-4.
This story originally appeared Los Angeles Times.
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