MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
Mention the word “practice” to any athlete and the facial expression that results is likely to be less than enthusiastic. For the majority, the time that precedes the opening game is nothing more than a necessary evil to be tolerated in order to best prepare for what lies ahead.
Even in the weeks since the season started, much has changed for the 1st Marine Logistics Group soccer team, the Dirty Dogs. Dirty Dogs player Lance Cpl. Steve Wysocki, a vehicle mechanic with Motor Transport Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group, is one of a handful of players who has played in every game this season.
“I think that strength and conditioning are more prevalent now,” said Wysocki, 21, from O’Fallon, Ill. “Back when we first started the team, we were just getting to know one another, and now we’re forming a core that will take us to the championship game.”
Though preparing for the season with more players would be preferable, the Dirty Dogs have made the best of their circumstances, having already cut more than half of the original starting team.
“I think it builds good team chemistry, especially this year with so many new faces,” said Gunnery Sgt. Pedro Aquino, maintenance chief, maintenance management office. “It is often overlooked, but we have a good group of guys and it is important we get along,” said Aquino, 35, from Oceanside, Calif.
Aquino has been coaching in the Commanding Generals Cup since 1998. The CG Cup is the name of the playoff series in which each team plays to compete for the championship.
“Early on, it was just murder,” said Aquino. “We would sprint up and down the field kicking the ball. There was no science to it, it was just very painful.”
Perhaps spurred on by the less-than-favorable memories of other games they endured as players, the Dirty Dogs coaches were more than happy to pass on portions of the preparation their current squad undergoes to others. For two weeks prior to the start of the season, the emphasis in training was firmly on strength and conditioning through a variety of exercises.
“What we are conscious of in pre-season is the time we have – a couple weeks is a long time – and also the mental state of the players,” said Wysocki. “We think back to when we were doing it and discuss how we felt when we were lapping and legging it. Mentally, we felt terrible, wondering if we could summon up any more energy and if we would ever get rid of the soreness.”
Soreness, though an irritant, is a manageable obstruction during pre-practice of a game. More damaging to a team’s preparations are injuries that can have an impact when the real games begin. Muscle strains and ligament damage often occur in the early weeks of a season as athletes strive to regain their match fitness.
Aquino admits that once a training plan that works is discovered, players rarely stray far from it. New ideas, he says, are all well and good, but the experiences he had during his playing days showed the Dirty Dogs coach that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
“I still get excited to come back and get going,” said Wysocki. “Like I said, I want to play but you know you have to do these things as part of the job. It doesn’t do any good to moan and complain about it. We know the situation.”
For players, going through the tough times are made bearable by the promise of an encounter with a ball. The early running is worthwhile, knowing that first practice scrimmage gets closer by the day. There is no way to cheat the system – hard work is hard work – but the Dirty Dogs have developed a tried and true system that they believe sets them up for the rigors of the season.
The players and the coach of the Dirty Dogs practice whenever they get a chance on any field that is available, and are looking forward to a successful season and their chance to win the CG cup and hold the trophy high above their heads. If they beat their rival team Disbo United on July 8 at the 11 Area parade field, they’ll be one step closer to that goal.