Sports Zone

Unconventional coach: Billies’ soccer players decide game rosters on way to success

Senior captain Liesel Geyer (14) charges toward the ball during a recent match.

PLEASANT HILL – Ryota Sugitani has a revolutionary style of coaching. It must be working wonders, because his Pleasant Hill boys soccer team has outscored its opponents 50-1 while compiling a 6-0 record to start the season.

“I’m pretty sure I’m the only coach in Oregon who lets the kids decide who starts and where,” the third-year coach said. “As much as the coach wants the kids to do well, if they’re not into it, they’re not going to produce. I always ask the kids how far they want to go. Do they want to win the league? Do they want to finish at .500? 

“Let them take control. If they fail, it’s their failure. I’m putting everything on them. The kids are in charge.”

Pleasant Hill Goal Keeper, Hunter Allen, goes up for the ball. The Pleasant Hill defense has only allowed one goal in 6 games.

The Pleasant Hill girls, who improved to 4-2 with a 2-0 victory Wednesday, Sept. 29, over La Pine, have had an upper hand over their competition because they never stopped playing during Covid.

“When Covid hit and everybody was shutting down, Pleasant Hill kept our turf and field open,” Billies girls coach Chris Hammond said. “Anyone could come, and you had to wear a mask. Ryota led the way on that, and he just kept practicing. 

“We had a five-week season in March, and our kids stayed in shape while everyone else was sitting at home in front of a computer.”

Hammond says all the players seem to relate well to Sugitani, who also oversees the girls program. 

Sophomore Izzy Anderson fights for the ball.

“Whenever he talks, people listen,” Hammond said. “It’s not always about soccer, sometimes it’s just wise advice.”

Sugitani’s influence has certainly been felt beyond the pitch. 

“I had three players come to me (during the pandemic) saying they were having anxiety or depression issues,” Sugitani said. “They were feeling isolated, so having this connection with other teammates is crucial, even if it’s only two or three times a week.” 

There he goes with those words of wisdom again.



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