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Arizona soccer using show-and-tell to build chemistry on way to NCAA Tournament

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats are entering Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Denver on a high note.

They have won four of their last five matches, including a heated rivalry game at Arizona State, and their chemistry is bubbling.

“It was also good the other years, but this year it’s a little different,” said senior goalkeeper Lainey Burdett, who is making her third trip to the postseason. “I think we’re all on the same page and wanting the same thing in the end.”

Why is their rapport different this year? Winning helps everything, of course, and the Wildcats have done a lot of that. They are 12-5-2.

But they also implemented a new method of team-building this season.

Show-and-tell.

Occasionally, the Wildcats will gather in a hotel conference room (if they are on the road) or in their McKale Center locker room (if they are at home), where a player or two will stand in front of their peers and reveal something unique about themselves, then lecture about it for two to four minutes.

“The main thing I told them is they had to teach us something,” said head coach Tony Amato. “Something they’re in to.”

It can’t be soccer.

“You think you know everything about somebody and they show you (you don’t),” said forward Jada Talley.

The topics have ranged from silly to serious. The participants are chosen at random.

“We’re literally cooling down at a practice and I’ll say, ‘think about it, you’ll probably go next week,” Amato said. “It’s just who I see.”

Some presentation examples:

  • Defender Samantha Falasco is an avid Pinterest user and showed her board full of adorable baby pigs, her favorite animal. Forward Brooke Wilson enjoyed this one, because pigs are her favorite animal, too.
  • Defender Sabrina Enciso is a hardcore gamer and talked about her love of Fortnite. Midfielder Emily Knous “has no idea what that realm of life is like” so she thought it was interesting.
  • Midfielder Kennedy Kieneker showed one of her popular makeup tutorials.
  • Goalkeeper Kendyll Humphreys likes to scare people and showed a video compilation of some instances she successfully startled a teammate or relative.
  • Midfielder Zoe Barrie, who doesn’t eat red meat, discussed the Impossible Burger, a plant-based alternative. Amato, who is careful about what he eats, found it intriguing and later saw it on the menu during a team meal. He hasn’t tried it yet, but will.
  • Forward Brynn Moga helps care for an autistic boy, so she described what that entails and provided some info on the disorder.
  • Forward Jada Talley is half Indian and plans to teach her teammates about the Punjabi culture when it is her turn to present. (Spoiler alert)
  • Midfielder Amanda Porter explained the significance of her tattoos.

Show-and-tell is a fun way to create positive energy, Knous said.

“You make a connection,” Amato explained. “Maybe you just hear something and you go, ‘oh, I’m into that too.’ Now you have something in common to talk about in the future or on a bus ride, so there’s a lot of stuff that I like and it’s actually turned out better than I thought.”

Amato, a diehard Philadelphia sports fan, borrowed the idea from the 76ers, who used it to build cohesion among their young, diverse team.

He believes show-and-tell will help his players when they go their separate ways, too.

“They’re standing up in front of the room, maybe they’ve never done that, don’t like it, don’t like doing it, but they’re having to talk about themselves a little bit which would fit big picture down the road of job interviews and things like that,” he said.

The college soccer season is short but stressful. 20 backbreaking games are packed into a two-and-a-half-month regular season, so show-and-tell also provides a much-needed reprieve from the rigors of it all.

“It’s a good stress reliever,” Talley said. “Everything is so hectic during the season. We’ve been nonstop since July if you think about it, and you need a break sometimes.”

And those breaks come in handy on nights like Friday when the Wildcats’ season will be hanging in the balance.

“It’s really important because then we can capitalize on those big moments, win big games, because we’re not burnt out from everything,” said forward Hannah Clifford.

“The season is intense, every little thing matters, and I think show-and-tell is a time for us to take a breather and get to know our teammates from a different perspective.”