Westmont Magazine Communicating Success
In an amazing four-year run, the women’s soccer team has won three national titles and posted a record of 75-10-6. Its back-to-back titles are a first for NAIA women’s soccer.
What is the secret of this success? Coach Mike Giuliano credits a philosophy that includes excellence, good communication, an intense level of play and gratitude.
Giuliano remembers watching an NAIA national playoff game early in his career and thinking, “If I could just take a team here once, I would be happy!” After winning three titles, he realizes the improbability of such victories. “There are a lot of great coaches and programs that haven’t done this,” he says. “So we’re always aware that what we are doing is special, and that appreciation keeps winning and training to win fresh.”
Westmont’s emphasis on excellence helps motivate players. Senior Janel Kaden, a three-time all-Golden State Athletic Conference honoree, says, “Westmont teaches us how to think and prepares us to make a difference in the world. The school expects a lot from its students, so we in turn expect a lot from ourselves. It’s an environment of success.”
Giuliano concurs. “The blend of academics and athletics is done right here. I believe there is a strong correlation, especially in female athletes, between success in the classroom and success in other endeavors. I consistently get quality students who know what it takes to excel, and this naturally carries over into their athletics. These are very intellectually and spiritually mature kids, and that benefits our program.”
As a communication studies professor, Giuliano uses communication theory with the team. “We spend time on team-building,” he explains. “This is not ambiguous talk about unity. We work really hard on relationships.”
For example, at the end of practice, players have 60 seconds to express gratitude for a teammate. They honor a person of the day, who shares her dreams for the future, struggles she is facing and prayer requests.
These exercises help build a family atmosphere. “We all value connectedness, and women have a special appreciation for relationships,” he says. “Their internal motivation can skyrocket if they feel deeply connected to their teammates. We’re called to nurture deep relationships with others, and it’s exciting that we play better when we fulfill the moral mandate of developing such relationships.”
Giuliano also stresses unity among the leadership. Captains and team leaders must present a unified front and create safe spaces where players can air differences and resolve conflict in a non-threatening way.
Kaden appreciates this approach. “We all play a crucial role — our team is like a family — we love each other so much and we fit together like a puzzle. If one person is missing, we don’t have the finished product. Everyone matters. We have a very strong connection, we feel the pleasure of God through our play. We need each other to play, and so we connect and lean on each other.”
Giuliano demands an intense level of play that includes a high-pressure defense, constant communication, a team-first approach and an “only-you” mentality in which team members see themselves as the only players on the field. If they get beat on defense, they react as if there is no one to help. When they shoot on goal, they assume no one else will put in the rebound. This approach creates a very high work rate.
While Giuliano and the team know their success will end, they intend to remain motivated regardless of records.
He emphasizes gratitude and reminds the team of a scene from the movie “Babe” in which a grandfather spends hours building an intricate doll house only to have his granddaughter disdain the gift. “It is ugly when people aren’t thankful for the gifts they get.
“Playing with gratitude is a never-ending source of motivation,” he says.
“But I must be honest,” he confesses. “The word ‘threepeat’ has crossed our minds.”