Taking away lessons from the World Cup

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Billions of people watched the World Cup over the last month, but some tuned in with a more critical eye than most.

Local soccer coaches checked out Croatia, Portugal, Belgium, Iceland and the other 28 squads in Russia to get their once-every-four-years fix of World Cup soccer, but also with the intent of adding to their knowledge base.

One of those coaches is Woodland girls coach Cait Witham, a former All-State goalie and collegiate standout at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford.

One of Witham’s biggest takeaways from the tournament, which ended with Sunday’s Croatia-France final in Moscow, was that some types of mistakes are universal.

“The irony is that even at this professional level some of the mistakes made are the same ones seen at the high school level,” Witham said. “The team that can remain focused and mentally fight the physical team has been more successful.”

Aside from match psychology and mental tactics, coaches can also learn from some physical tactics of the best players in the world.

“Watching their first touch with balls out of the air and seeing how they can put a shot on goal out of the air is what I try and teach the girls, how important their first touch is and switching the field,” Witham said. “Again, they’re professionals, but it’s so important to consistently change the point of attack.”

One aspect of the World Cup that’s been widely criticized here in the United States is the rash of players exaggerating injuries and flopping on the pitch.

That trend by world renowned players, such as Brazil’s Neymar, does harm to the sport’s reputation in America, in Witham’s opinion.

“The flopping always hurts because then people don’t necessarily give these talented players the respect they deserve,” Witham said. “I hate watching them dive for calls because that’s not good publicity for our sport.”

Witham thinks this tournament has been an overall positive for the sport despite the United States not qualifying for the first time since 1986.

“Soccer really is an amazing game,” Witham said. “To know countries are supporting and watching is always great to know. The USA not being in it hurts with how many people in the United States were excited about soccer and the World Cup, which is disappointing since soccer is still trying to find their way into the world of professional sports (in America) and it needs all the help it can get.”