Appalachian State women’s soccer head coach, Sarah Strickland, has used her eight years at the university to develop not only talented soccer players, but girls who are rich in character. One of her unique strategies for accomplishing this, a culture of community service through a “family” system.
“I believe in serving the community,” says Strickland, “and I believe in giving back to a community that has invested in our university. I also think it helps the girls grow, as people, to give back. I think you get more out of it than you are actually giving.”
According to junior outside back, Emmily Cowie, the girls are broken up into “families” and as incoming freshman join the team they are carefully placed into a family of their own. Every family is expected to choose and perform a service project by the conclusion of each semester.
In addition to the service project that each family performs, the players are also given a certain number of service hours to log. These hours are often used for various individual passions of the girls and allows for some creativity with their work.
One such example is App State center back, Alexa Asher. Asher is a public health major who chose to fulfill most of her community service time with some of her teammates for the Hunger and Health Coalition, a group that provides food and pharmaceuticals for those in need. This not only gives Asher a chance to give back, but a chance to grow within her discipline of study.
Other girls have been involved in things such as Operation Christmas Child, The Humane Society, Joy Prom, pancake fundraisers, charity tournament fundraisers, and countless more.
Cowie believes that community service is an opportunity for self-discovery. She details this by saying, “I think that being on a team and helping with a community helps bring out things that maybe you didn’t even know about yourself.
Another unique aspect of the family concept in this women’s soccer program is that it provides extra benefits for the girls on the field.
Senior outside back, Jamie Palermo, explains, “If we know each other well off the field working and helping others then it’s easier to for us out on the field together.”
Strickland purposefully intended for this result of working together in a community service setting in order to improve chemistry. It is particularly important for the incoming freshman to be implemented with the rest of the girls.
“A big part of soccer is just getting to know your team,” says Asher, “So when freshman come in, we try to even it out so a freshman will go with a senior to perform a community service activity.”
This is where the selection system of the families is specially designed by Strickland.
The dividing of the team is based on two major factors, class and personality. Strickland wants girls of all levels of collegiate experience, freshman through senior, to integrate with each other and learn from one another.
She also places heavy focus on the personalities of her players. She tried to put girls who are more outgoing and natural leaders with girls who are more reserved to create a diverse atmosphere, something that Strickland believes “reflects the atmosphere of the workplace.”
All of this intense focus on community service may come as a surprise to some now learning about it, but it is something the girls know they are signing up for before ever committing to Appalachian State.
“She makes it clear that when your committing to this team you’re also committing to a bunch of community service and helping with your community because that’s really important to her and us,” says Palermo.
Strickland is actively looking for girls in the recruiting process who not only care about their soccer careers, but their character and ability to serve those who serve them. “It was nothing that I had to push for them to buy into when I got here. It was something that they embraced,” she states.
At the end of the day, coach Strickland is in Boone, N.C. with Appalachian State women’s soccer to build a successful program, but more importantly, successful individuals though a scholarly and community focus.
“Your resume is not going to be, ‘I am on the women’s soccer team. Period,’” she says, “Part of our job is to take them from being 18-year-olds to becoming thriving adults that are going to benefit whatever community they go into.”
Strickland’s statement to sum up her program, “It’s not just about soccer when you come here.”