Mercogliano: Five soccer coaches form lifelong bond

Mercogliano: Five soccer coaches form lifelong bond

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Mercogliano: Five soccer coaches form lifelong bond

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Valhalla soccer coach Sandro Prosperino coaches during a game against Goshen'during the Section 1 vs. Section 9 boys soccer challenge at Mamaroneck High School Oct. 10, 2016.

Valhalla soccer coach Sandro Prosperino coaches during a game against Goshen’during the Section 1 vs. Section 9 boys soccer challenge at Mamaroneck High School Oct. 10, 2016.

Ever have one of those group text message chats that never seems to end?

Mamaroneck boys soccer Rich Becker knows the feeling.

An ongoing chat between Becker and four other Section 1 coaches — Bronxville’s Donny Lucas, Byram Hills’ Matty Allen, Lakeland’s Tim Hourahan and Valhalla’s Sandro Prosperino — has become a constant sounding board, filled with soccer talk and a fair share of inside jokes.

“Our wives laugh at us,” Becker said. “It’s all day long with the texts. Whenever somebody has a game, we’ll talk about how things are going and things that are happening in each class.

“It’s been three or four years now that we’ve become really close, and it’s year-round that we’re talking.”

The five like-minded coaches realized that they shared a passion and saw value in what they could learn from each other. That mutual respect led to close friendships, which has morphed into a focus group of sorts in the aforementioned chat.

As they’ve brainstormed about everything from in-game strategy to how to mentor troubled teenagers, they’ve come up with ideas for how to grow their sport and expose their athletes.

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Together, they developed the Westchester vs. Rockland Challenge, which was held for the fifth year in a row earlier this season. And on Monday, another event that they masterminded — the Section 1 vs. Section 9 Challenge — was played for the third time, this year at Mamaroneck High.

Both events are meant to test their teams against top competition, and both are used to raise money in the fight against cancer.

Mamaroneck High School soccer coach Rich Becker announces the teams during a game in the Section 1 vs. Section 9 boys soccer challenge at Mamaroneck High School Oct. 10, 2016.

Mamaroneck High School soccer coach Rich Becker announces the teams during a game in the Section 1 vs. Section 9 boys soccer challenge at Mamaroneck High School Oct. 10, 2016.

“We’re all about Section 1 and we’re about our athletes, and we want to put them out there and showcase them as best we can,” Hourahan said. “On a beautiful day like today with four or five college coaches out here looking at our players, that’s what it’s all about.

“I talked to the kids about the game, and how everyone in the state is going to be curious about these five games. It’s not just this area, but the rest of New York State knows there’s a big event going on, so we’re able to put our kids out there in big moments.”

Too often, coaches are fueled by their competitive instincts and look at each other more as adversaries than as peers. Hourahan harkened back to when he first started coaching and lost to Allen in back-to-back Class A finals.

“In ’05, ’06 and ’07, when Byram was beating the heck out of us all of the time, it was a different relationship,” he said. “I was just getting into the game and I didn’t know much about (Allen). Then when I started learning about his style and what he did with his kids and what the big picture was, that’s when our friendship grew.”

The recognition that they shared the unique experiences of what comes with being a varsity head coach is what ultimately forged their bond.

“It’s someone to talk to who is going through the same problems,” Lucas said. “We learn from each other. For example, no one has better set pieces than Lakeland, so you’ll see some of us use (Hourahan’s) plays for ourselves. In the long run, we’re all family.”

It’s probably no coincidence that each coach’s respective team is enjoying a winning season, but more importantly, they’re setting an example of teamwork. It’s a value lesson not just for the student-athletes, but for coaches in every sport who could benefit from a similar collaboration.

And if they’re into texting, it can also lead to plenty of late-night laughs.

“It’s made me a much better coach,” Prosperino said. “There’s no question about that. There’s so many ideas that we share, and that’s one aspect of these relationships. But the other thing is having this support system in place, where after tough losses, just having a group of guys that are there and can help you sort through what’s going on in your head.

“It’s something that I would recommend for all coaches.”

Twitter: @vzmercogliano

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