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Army West Point Men’s Soccer

Winning The Moments

By Kim McDermott ’87, WPAOG staff

Photo above: Goalkeeper Justin Stoll ’20 gets set to boot the ball up the field

In December 2009, West Point named Russell Payne as the eleventh head coach of Men’s Soccer. “It is a tremendous honor,” said Payne. “West Point is our nation’s top institution and the traditions here run as deep as they come. Army has the ability to attract the highest caliber student-athletes, and I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to re-establish the Men’s Soccer program’s presence on the national scene and to develop a culture that reflects the prestige and rich tradition represented by all who have called West Point home.” Prior to his appointment, West Point was not on Payne’s radar. He was in his fifth season as an assistant coach at the University of Maryland, his alma mater, when Army contacted him during a national search for a new head coach. Payne’s brother had been an ROTC cadet, but he had very little familiarity with the military. He consulted a former teammate of his from Maryland (who was an Army officer) who told him he should consider it because the values emphasized at the Academy lined up with who he was. The rest, as they say, is history. He visited for an interview and discovered “amazing people and a beautiful campus.” He was excited that Army was committed to reinvesting in the program, and he did indeed think West Point was a good fit. He said, “My wife and I got a great feeling from all the people here and we are looking forward to becoming part of the West Point family.”

In fact, West Point seemed a lot like home. It reminded him very much of his roots in Columbia, Maryland—what he calls the “original planned community.” It was a suburban environment, a highly diverse neighborhood, where everyone had appreciation for community, and education was very important. “This is hard to find,” he says, but he found it at West Point. He especially loves that his family and his players are extremely close. His children come to practice as often as they can, and he says, “My kids have 25 big brothers!”

Photo left: Head coach Russell Payne addresses the team during a walkthrough in San Diego, CA

What did Payne bring to the program? He believes the story of Army West Point Men’s Soccer is consistency. He maintains a constant approach to everything, from use of terminology to practice. Fidelity in all the small things provides a stable foundation for success. He says this is especially important when setbacks occur. This season, the program has encountered unforeseen challenges and injuries which have “affected the ability to be whole all of the time.” But when everyone shares a common understanding of what’s going on, what to do and when to do it, success can follow. Team captain Grayson Naquin ’19 says, “Coach Payne’s approach is very simple yet effective, since he is consistent with his demands of excellence in all areas of life, and this translates to the field.”

Payne echoes what other coaches have said about coaching at West Point. He says, “It’s easy.” Not because coaching is easy, but because the same things the players are learning in the locker room are reinforced everywhere else. Whether it’s about individual performance or teamwork, the cadets are receiving consistent messages from faculty and leadership. “It’s great that the values and belief systems that I came with are the same as what West Point teaches every day.” Naquin adds, “Although the ‘lingo’ we use in our locker room may be slightly tailored towards soccer, our values are quite synonymous with those that West Point seeks to instill.”

When asked what impresses him most about cadets, Payne is quick to respond with two attributes: their adaptability and resiliency. He realizes that many, if not most, come to the Academy unsure about what they are fully capable of. “But put in an environment full of high-level thinkers and operating under stress they learn they can do more—that’s impressive! They all dig in and work together and mostly all of them make it! This is very different from a scenario when only the strongest survive.” Team Captain Tyler Mitchiner ’20 says, “There are many team settings within our companies and classrooms that require the same amount of detail regarding teamwork, motivation, and leadership. I think the constant exposure to these environments is what most prepares cadets for future challenges outside of West Point.”

Photo right: Army West Point Men’s Soccer poses with the Army-Navy Cup after defeating Navy 4-1 on October 12, 2018

How, specifically, does the team work together in this way? The driving philosophy is, “Win the moment.” Mitchiner says the team adheres to this every day. “The game is made up of small moments. We emphasize focusing on winning the current moment and nothing else. Once that moment is over, move on to winning the next one. These moments add up, and if a team can win the individual moments consistently, then they will be successful. This winning-the-moment mentality can also be useful off the field in everyday life.”

Payne gives the team a model called the Performance Pentagon which addresses the fundamental ways that the players can make this happen. Players need to work on their hearts, mind and body— which equate to commitment, concentration and conditioning. They also need to focus on relationships and teamwork—equating to communication and cooperation. Strength in these areas helps them face all the tests that teach them how to win the moments and get better every day.

Two major events for the team are coming up in the spring, and each is important in its own way. The first is a Spring Break trip in March. This will be the team’s first ever foreign tour to the U.K. Players will have the opportunity to train and play with Premier League teams in Premier League venues. Payne is excited that the cadets will get to see the game played at the highest level. It will be a blend of cultural immersion and a bonding experience and will allow them to “make the most of their (nine months long) out-of-season time.” Mitchiner is excited to represent West Point overseas.

The other event is Alumni Weekend, May 3-5, 2019. Per Payne, it’s important to alumni who will get to “revisit their bonds and have an opportunity to reconnect with each other around a common passion.” But he notes that it’s also important for the cadets. He says, “They gain perspective on their time here when they see how the alumni are so connected—they learn that they need to make the most of their time together.”

Naquin describes the current team’s modus operandi as a deep respect for each other, the program, and the Academy. He says, “Being a part of the Army Men's Soccer team is a blessing few possess, and we take pride in the opportunity to put on our jersey every game. When we put our jerseys on, we all commit to excellence for each other, those who have worn our jersey before us (represented by the number on our backs), as well the Academy itself (represented by the logo on the front).” And, Mitchiner adds, “We love what we do.”

Printed in West Point magazine, Winter 2019, all rights reserved.