By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
The Lehigh women's soccer program has a vision for sustained success. In Eric Lambinus' tenure as head coach, the Mountain Hawks have impressed in every facet. On the field, Lehigh won a Patriot League Championship in 2010 and off the field, the Mountain Hawks have featured 75 Patriot League Academic Honor Roll recipients in Lambinus' tenure.
"Over the last couple years, we've tried to put our program in a place where we can compete for championships," said the fifth-year head coach. "When I started, we had a really good group and we were able to compete, but we don't want it to be a one-off situation. We want something that's sustainable over a period of time."
To help guide the program in everything it does, the Mountain Hawks (with the help of Julie Ammary, who works with Lehigh Athletics' Leadership Education) have created a vision: Believing and having a fierce Need to Win, Competing, Playing Great Soccer, Self and Team Accountability, and Values Team Culture. Loving the game of soccer and doing everything with Genuine Passion.
This vision begins in the recruiting process and resonates in the daily actions of all the players and coaches.
"Developing a clear vision is a key element of strong leadership within any organization," said Ammary. "The women's soccer team has worked diligently and collectively to craft a compelling vision, which resonates with current players and coaches and also respects the traditions of their program. I'm proud of the time and thoughtfulness they invested in the process. By re-affirming their foundation as a program, they have the opportunity for much greater accountability."
Now that Lambinus is acclimated to Lehigh and there is a consistency within his coaching staff (assistant coach Amy Hough is beginning her fifth year in 2015), this felt like the right time to implement the vision.
"We're at a point where we feel that we have a strong group of upperclassmen who understand our vision (as a coaching staff) for the program," said Lambinus. "We worked a lot with Julie and then we got to a place this past spring when the team itself wanted to put together a vision - this is what we see in our program and this is what we want. These are the things that we talk about on a regular basis and are the things they feel they need to do in order to compete for a championship.
"These things aren't just on the field," Lambinus continued. "They're also off the field and the way they live their lives. It's a lifestyle, a thought process. If we do things the right way, the result will come. I think our vision ties in perfectly with Lehigh Athletics' Pillars of Leadership. The words in the pillars are right in this vision as well and the philosophy of our overall athletic department."
Catalyst for the Vision
One of the biggest catalysts for the vision was last fall when the team enjoyed success, which included a school-record six-game unbeaten streak to begin Patriot League play. However, the Mountain Hawks finished with five ties and struggled to get over the hump.
"Last year, I thought we were a good team. I thought we were one of the better teams in the league, but the results didn't show," said Lambinus. "I also think our players really felt we were better than our record. We wanted to somehow figure out all the good things we were doing and translate that onto the field. Therefore, we wanted to get this vision together to identify what we need to do.
As Lambinus said, this vision was greatly motivated by the players.
"I'm not sure they truly believed they could win the league the last two years. Now, they definitely do. They see the teams in our league and know we're just as good. We just need to get over that hump and do those little things that will help us become a championship-level team."
When identifying student-athletes, attributes of the vision come into play. First, Lambinus looks for the right type of soccer player.
As he said, "Do they have certain traits? Do they attack? Do they defend relentlessly? Are they adaptable? Do they have a good soccer IQ? All those things can help them become better players in our system. That's always the first thing.
"Then we definitely want to see a competitor," he continued. "Someone who competes on a regular basis, whether it's training, an ID clinic or a game. Down 3-0 or up 3-0, we want to see that person getting after it."
Attributes beyond soccer skills are just as important.
"Off the field attributes are tough to see sometimes, but we use coaches, teachers and faculty members, to try to get as much information as possible," said Lambinus. "Are they captains? Do her teammates look up to her? We want to see self and team accountability."
Perhaps most importantly, Lambinus wants to see a passion and love of the game.
"We want to see that person be excited about playing," he said. "I think the vision puts on paper what we're looking for in players."
Arriving at Lehigh
Lambinus recruits the right people then gets the incomers acclimated into the culture of the program so they make the transition to college as flawlessly as possible.
"The hope is our incoming players have a really good idea of what we're trying to do, through communication of the coaching staff over the entire recruiting process," he said. "It could be up to a two-year process. Also important is communication from our upperclassmen, our student-athletes who are already here. We want acceptance of them as teammates, but we want the freshmen to earn that (acceptance). We want them to be humble, yet confident in the fact that we've recruited them.
"Our incoming players are seeing this vision every day," Lambinus continued. "This is the front page of their packet, so they see this during their workouts throughout the summer. We want them to continue seeing this vision and understanding what our team believes in, so they can do these things on a regular basis."
The program's essence begins with the upperclassmen. When the freshmen arrive in August, Lambinus looks to the returnees to set the example.
"We talk a lot about the power of keystone behaviors - actions that, when practiced diligently, become habits of success, or, as we refer to them, 'the way we do things around here,' said Ammary. "The women's soccer team understands that their written vision is useless unless each individual is fully committed to collectively agreed-upon actions and, further, is willing to hold teammates accountable to the same behaviors. This team has the capacity to make their vision a reality and I'm excited to see just how hungry they are."
Lehigh Athletic features a SARD Student-Athlete Development committee which focuses on helping student-athletes be successful in all areas: athletically, academically, socially, emotionally. Lambinus takes full advantage of the support systems in place and makes sure his student-athletes utilize the resources.
"We have contacts and we have people they meet right in their first couple weeks that gives them the access to all the information about resources," he said. "Eric (Markovcy) in our strength and conditioning program, Julie in our leadership program, Katie (Guynn) our academic coordinator. We've had our students go over and meet with Aaron Sterba in the counseling center and Dr. Birky as well, not just for counseling, but also for performance. We introduce all these people to our student-athletes right when they get here so they know that they have access to all of these resources."
"The women's soccer program is full of high achievers and the entire support system we have helps them streamline their drive, making them stronger in every area and as a unit," said Guynn. "It's great that we're all delivering the same message and there's so much buy-in from the team."
It's important for incomers to know they're not going about the collegiate experience alone. Lambinus looks to the returnees for leadership to help the freshmen through the transition process.
"My role in the women's soccer program is to support them academically as needed," said Guynn. "As a program, the team does a great job academically. They have a few initiatives unique to their team that I think help tremendously. For example, when the spring semester started, they participated in an academic scavenger hunt which required things like introducing themselves to professors, sitting in the front row of class and visiting me. It helped them get organized early and I really enjoyed the influx of women's soccer players."
The foundation for Lehigh women's soccer is in place; the program is implementing the vision to get over the hump. The Mountain Hawks have made two Patriot League Tournaments in Lambinus' tenure and have been in the playoff mix every season. Lehigh won the 2010 Patriot League Title and looks to make that a regular occurrence. Last season, the Mountain Hawks tied eventual league champion Boston University so they're not far from championship contention.
You can get to a championship in several ways. Lambinus and his staff is focused on the process.
"The overriding goal is to compete for championships, but you want to do it the right way, which I think is most important," he said. "A championship is an outcome goal. It's not something we continually plaster. To compete and win a championship isn't even in the vision because we feel it's an outcome.
"We have to work on the process and we have to work on daily things on a regular basis," he continued. "If we continue to take care of those things on a daily basis and excel in those areas, I guarantee the championship will come eventually. That's the way you can sustain the success."
The Mountain Hawks' lineup over recent years has featured several players from every class. This is intentional.
"We don't recruit to replace. We recruit individuals on a regular basis and want to build a team that each year will have a chance to compete," said Lambinus. "Our perfect lineup is to have contributors from each class. We want three to four players from each class contributing on the field on a regular basis.
"If you're building one year for this championship, I don't think you can sustain that success over a period of time. We want to make sure we're not just building for one championship one, but we're building for doing this on a regular basis with a consistent level. Our recruiting ties into that concept."
Since the Mountain Hawks focus on the process, they can enjoy other outcomes beyond championships. Lambinus admitted he is in coaching because of the growth of his student-athletes as athletes and most importantly, people.
"Wins and losses and games are great, but I like the development of a student-athlete," he said. "I'll be honest with you, there are times where we sacrifice wins and losses for that development. Maybe it's holding a player out of a game just because their training habits weren't as great. Maybe it's an academic reason, a social reason. We're not afraid because we want the student-athletes to leave here fully understanding commitment."
Life skills, life development and life lessons are what college athletics is all about.
"Every day, they're out there to improve themselves and get better," said Lambinus. "We're really proud when we see the seniors leave and have a really good understanding of what it takes to be successful."
"One of my favorite moments is at the end of the year when we allow our seniors to speak to the team and give them the insights; this is what these four years meant to me. We're really proud of how our student-athletes have developed. Even in our alumnae game, you can see the growth and maturity in all of them."
Overall growth and development is Lambinus' biggest pitch to the student-athletes he recruits.
"I think Lehigh offers the perfect balance of everything you want in a college athletic experience," he said. "Lehigh does a great job of not pigeon-holing our athletes as just athletes. They're students here… they really are. They don't get preferential treatment in classes, they don't get preferential treatment in housing. They're able to do all the different majors. They have to balance their academic life with their soccer life and athletics. It's not the other way around."
There's a focus on academics at a prestigious institution like Lehigh, but the athletics aren't too shabby either.
"Our student-athletes get to compete against great teams," said Lambinus. "The Patriot League is one of the stronger leagues, it's working into the top 15 (in the country) and I wouldn't be surprised if it gets into the top 10 pretty soon. We're seeing that in all of our sports across the board. They're each getting stronger, but we're not sacrificing any of those academics.
"If an individual wants a challenge - wants a challenge academically, wants a challenge socially, wants a challenge athletically - this is the place to go. I don't think there's another school in the country that challenges student-athletes in all those areas the way we do here."
That challenge is depicted nicely in the vision, a vision the players and coaches look to as a guide to take the program to the next level.