November 10, 2010

Zawislan Using Playing Days to Lead Men’s Soccer

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In 2008, the men’s soccer team finished the season with a 1-15 record. By then, it was clear that the squad needed some changes in its structure and strategy. Later in the year, those modifications started with the search for a new head coach. At the end of the process, the Athletics Department decided Jaro Zawislan was the ideal man to lead Cornell’s reconstruction.

“[The competition for the coaching position] was a very through process. There were several stages, all which involved time and many interviews,” Zawislan said. “In the end, I have appreciation for the process because it allowed me to know Cornell better, especially the academic environment.”

Zawislan’s passion for the sport is undeniable. He attributes his strong feelings towards the  sport of soccer to the following reasons. First, he was born in Poland –– where soccer is the number one national sport –– and second, he was raised in the family of a professional soccer player. In other words, Zawislan was born and raised with soccer. As he puts it, “soccer is in [his] blood”.

As a young athlete, he played on the youth team of a professional club in Poland. Then, his family decided to migrate to Canada when he was 17 years old. After completing high school, Zaswilan went to Clemson, where he was successful in both academics and athletics. As a goalkeeper for the Tigers, he started in all the games of his undergraduate career and broke many records in the process –– career saves (446), single-season saves (134), career wins (58) and career starts (88). In the academic spectrum, he was named a national All-Academic honoree twice. After his collegiate career, Zawislan played at the professional level in both, Poland and the United States. He admits that these previous experiences as a player have proven to be very useful as a coach.

“I have been fortunate to get experiences from many coaches as a goalkeeper. You learn to observe what works for you as a player and what coaching approaches work for the team,” Zawislan said. “You also get the mental perspective from playing in the field. As a goalkeeper, you have everybody in front of you, which allows you to see the game from a different perspective. Communication and organization is also very important for the position. Goalkeepers are involved in other things beside making saves.”

After his playing career, Zawislan continued to show his passion for the sport that runs trough his veins by becoming a coach. He began his collegiate coaching career with Creighton, where he was able to reach the NCAA Men’s College Cup Final Four in 2000. One year later, he became an assistant coach and a goalkeeper coach for  Stanford’s men’s soccer team. During this campaign (2001), the Cardinal won its first-ever –– and its only one to this date –– Pac-10 title, reached the NCAA Men’s College Cup Final Four, and established the best record in the program’s history (19-2-1).

“As an assistant coach, I learned many things from experienced coaches. Although my experiences at the youth and college level were very important, the most significant ones came from the coaching jobs. Eventually, you gain enough understanding to develop your own style of playing,”  Zawislan said. “Throughout the years, I have always been in a position to learn many things. I am very grateful for that.”

After coaching Syracuse for eight seasons, Zawislan led the Red to a 6-6-5 record in 2009 –– 10 losses less than the previous campaign. Additionally, the team saw many improvements during his first year as the head coach. For instance, Cornell outscored the 2008 squad by 12 goals, 20-8, and conceded 23 goals –– compared to the 43 allowed the year before. However, after a positive first season as Cornell’s engineer, Zawislan made sure nobody was laying back.

“In general, we saw that progress was made. However, we saw this as a step for even more progress,” he acknowledged. This gave us some momentum, but it didn’t guarantee anything. We needed to keep moving forward because the next season was going to be a new one and we knew we had to earn the results.”

The Red (4-8-4) had played at a consistent level during its first 11 games. However, in the last five matches, Cornell has been shut-out and defeated in every single contest. To many, this is just another step backward. To Zawislan, it is more complicated than that. To him, the team has improved in many facets of the game and it is just unfortunate the record doesn’t show this progress.

“Our defense is certainly not perfect but there has definitely been improvement on the defensive side. Our team is much tighter and [more] solid. Last year, we competed with every team and we dominated major parts of the game. [Even so], there is a visible improvement in this campaign. From this year’s competitive schedule, we realize we have a great potential,” he said. “However, we will have to get sharper on both ends of the field. We also need to improve our finishing and the executing side of the game.”

In spite of this season’s record, Zawislan is sure the program is working to move in the right direction. The head coach believes the offseason will be a crucial step for the team because it would provide the time, work and preparation for even more improvement.

“We are seeking the right direction in the physical, technical, tactical, and mental part of the game.”

Original Author: AJ Ortiz