From Wales to Division III
Alun Oliver '04, first-year head men's soccer coach at St. Mary's College of Maryland, was interviewed by Office of Publications student fellow and Seahawk cross country runner, Annalise Kenney '15.
Alun Oliver's first year at St. Mary's College of Maryland required quite a bit more acclimation than most. A native of Ponty-Pool, Wales, Oliver arrived on campus in the fall of 2000 eager to play soccer, but nervous about what an American education experience would entail. After all, Oliver had substituted perusing professional soccer for academic studies in the two previous years. How would an international student fare in such a different environment?
"Soccer helped," says Oliver of his first year at St. Mary's. Playing for the soccer team allowed Oliver a smooth transition into college life: balancing practice and classes taught Alun time management, while a strenuous game schedule and tough courses taught discipline. Thanks to soccer, Oliver was able to focus on academics, earning his bachelor's degree in economics in 2004 and master's degree in education in 2009.
Oliver chose to play Division III soccer in order to get the "all-around experience" in college. He praises Division III athletic programs as being "less cut-throat" than those of higher divisions, with a "nurturing environment that helps to develop student-athletes" both in the classroom and on the field. Division III athletes have the opportunity to participate in activities outside their sport, from academic pursuits to extracurricular activities. Oliver says even the opportunity to meet people outside the athletic division is an advantage rarely seen by Division I athletes.
Since Oliver took over as head of the men's varsity soccer team at St. Mary's in February 2011, he has encouraged his athletes to balance academics and athletics. He emphasizes the word "focus" as an important factor to success as a student-athlete. Varsity athletes have a lot to worry about between classes, work, athletic success, and social life.
Oliver employs his own "focus" strategy when preparing for a game, or even just for practice. It is Oliver's job to set the plans for upcoming games and practices, prepare line-ups and pregame speeches, and interact with athletes, assistant coaches, and even possible recruits. "I'm always recruiting," says Oliver, who dedicates much effort to finding the best student-athlete fits for the St. Mary's program.
On game days, Oliver can be found doing the "background work," ensuring that uniforms and officials are in order. He pays close attention to his team, ensuring that they have a few hours before game-time in order to mentally prepare for kick-off. Pregame hype is important, says Oliver, but not so much that the game is elevated to a "life-or-death" level. Soccer is a team sport, so athletes need to work together, to rely on each other. And of course, the key to success, be it individual or as a team, in the classroom or on the pitch, is focus.