MRISA Soccer: A Wake Up Call for the Phoenix


The UNIS JV soccer teams truly felt the heat this past weekend at the annual MRISA soccer tournament, hosted by our neighbors at the Hanoi International School. The two teams chosen to represent the white and blue played a series of five games over the course of two days at My Dinh stadium, embracing the almost unnatural heat and sun. Despite the torturous conditions, the teams did their best to keep up with the worthy competition. Schools from around the Mekong region, including Vientiane International School, International School of Phnom Penh, Northridge International, International School of Eastern Seaboard, and our North-South buddies SSIS and ISHCMC were all in attendance, and there were some great games played. Despite the efforts and the hard work put in by both teams, no wins were gained, and the girls finished 7th out of 8 teams while the boys came in last.

MRISA soccer
The boys JV soccer team, courtesy of HIS

I wasn’t planning on being involved with soccer this year (well actually my mom was planning on me not being involved with soccer this year), but when coach McMillen came to me and asked if I would be willing to fill in the vacant goalie position, I couldn’t turn him down. It was interesting for me as primarily an APAC player who hasn’t been involved with MRISA for a couple years now, especially not a soccer tournament; after competing against the other MRISA schools, it became clear to me that UNIS is definitely facing a problem. This is not the only tournament this year the UNIS teams have finished in the bottom two positions – APAC volleyball, MRISA volleyball, APAC basketball, and MRISA basketball have all had similar outcomes in the past year. The trend has haunted the school’s teams for as long as I’ve played for a UNIS team (high school anyways), and I, from my experience as an athlete, think that it originates from a variety of different sources:

1. We are the only school that has a team both in the MRISA tournament and the APAC tournament. We are also the only team to send two different teams to the two individual tournaments. Now what does this mean? On the MRISA side we are sending what is essentially the B team to compete against other schools’ A teams, which is never easy, and on the APAC side we are sending our A team to play against bigger schools in bigger cities who dedicate much more time to their sports program than we do. That is not to say that we do not put in as much time and effort as other APAC schools, but I think Coach L definitely made a strong statement by getting the soccer team involved in pre-season training during Season 1. The two team system itself is not bad, after all we end up giving more athletes an opportunity to be a part of a team and to travel, but at the same time there will almost always be the gap in skill level. This is a difficult problem to solve; is it just a transitional period for UNIS, who is slowly getting accustomed to playing in two leagues, and we’ll be good to go in another couple of years? Should we have just one team with our best players in two tournaments? Do we need to drop out of one of the leagues?

2. Building on the idea of time and effort, I believe commitment (or rather lack of commitment) is another fatal issue that UNIS students suffer from. I will be the first to tell you that our school offers almost too much for students to be involved in, and schedules can become very busy very quickly. And while I do think it’s important for everyone to be involved in a wide range of things and pursue their interests, I think it’s just at important for students to be able to say no when it becomes too much. Students and athletes especially have a responsibility to be 150% committed to their sport or their music or whatever it may be during their respective season and put plenty of extras hours to make the necessary improvements if they truly wish to see changes in the results. From an athletic perspective, that means hitting the weight room, getting involved in off-season training and open courts, and getting prepped for next season.

3. Within the international community, one of the ongoing struggles is the fact that people, students and staff alike, come and go. The affect this has on sports is that changes in coaching become quite common; the varsity soccer team has undergone 2-3 coaching changes in last several years, the varsity volleyball received a new coach this year who will be changed yet again next year, and the veteran basketball coach Cumings will be leaving at the end of this year – and that’s just for the boys teams. So what does this mean for the UNIS teams? Because there is such an inconsistency in coaching personnel, the student athletes are constantly in a transitional mindset and are not able to adjust to a single coaching style, making it more difficult them to develop their skills and for the team to bond efficiently. Granted, this is likely an obstacle that our competitor schools are also faced with, but an obstacle nonetheless

4. Losing is never fun. It’s especially not fun when you can’t seem to stop With UNIS’s current situation, the losing streak kills an athlete’s mind frame and puts it down to a level where players are convinced that they cannot succeed. Having seen it first hand, I would say that it is the worst possible trait that an athlete, or anyone really, can have. Because more often than not, if you tell yourself you can’t do it then you won’t be able to. The legendary 4-time CrossFit Champion and the fittest man on the planet Rich Froning wrote in his book First: “CrossFit is 30% physical, and 70% mental”. I think this is something that translates to all sports, and is something that all UNIS athletes should keep in the back of their mind – it’s what pushes you to run that 10th suicide, do that final pull up, and score that game-defining point.

With all that being said, next week our varsity soccer teams will be travelling to their tournaments in Beijing and Kobe. So far these groups have had the most success within the APAC tournament, and I hope they continue to see impressive results. Meanwhile, I will continue, with the help of my fellow athletes, searching for a solution to the more-long term UNIS problem. In the immortal words of Eminem:

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