Robert Victoria knows what he’d rather be doing at this time of spring.

As coach of Robert D. Edgren’s boys soccer team two seasons ago, he spent the last two weekends of the regular season playing four matches, evaluating his troops and settling on a lineup for the Far East Class A Tournament, in which his Eagles placed third.

Now coaching the Seoul American boys team, Victoria for the first time is experiencing the traditional three “dead weeks” between the Korean-American Interscholastic Activities Conference and Far East tournaments.

By KAIAC rule, no matches may be played in May, when many DODDS students are taking Advanced Placement tests and international school students are engaged in both AP and International Baccalaureate exams.

As a result, Victoria’s Falcons and Seoul’s girls team as well as those at Osan American and Daegu American must wait for Far East. Victoria leaves no wiggle room about his druthers:

“I’d rather be playing,” Victoria said of the break, which he describes as “way too long. It’s difficult keeping people motivated here and have three weeks of nothing. Scrimmages and real games are two different things.”

“There’s such a long break, [Far East is] almost like a second season,” said Ed Thompson, coach of Daegu’s defending Class A champion girls team.

That “second season” is caused by myriad scheduling problems that DODDS and KAIAC have gone to great pains to try to solve, only to create other problems.

“The last thing you want is have a tournament with half the kids gone,” KAIAC president and Seoul Foreign athletic director J.P. Rader said. “It’s one of those problems, I don’t really know what the answer is.”

Seoul, Osan and Daegu coaches say they’d like to play “friendly” matches on weekends in May. But administrators and athletics officials say they’re reluctant to pull students away from AP test study and won’t fund transportation for matches out of season.

“Anything you play beyond [KAIAC] is extra, and our district only funds what’s on the schedule,” Daegu AD Michelle Chandler said.

As a result, Seoul, Daegu and Osan are left to fend for themselves.

“We’re wanting to defend our title, so we have the motivation,” Thompson said.

It’s staying sharp and keeping the rust off that loom as issues.

“A week is fine; three weeks is too many,” Victoria said. “You have your team selected, but kids not on the team, in their minds they’re done, so why should they practice? You can’t do 11-on-11 scrimmages.”

Some might suggest the long rest will help to heal injuries.

“In some ways, it’s a blessing,” Chandler said.

One problem coaches run into is maintaining their teams’ focus.

“Physically, they’re ready and they’ll stay ready. The mental aspect is the tougher one to keep,” Seoul American girls coach Lori Rogers said. “They know it’s [Far East] so far away. And exams start this week; people aren’t motivated to come to practice.”

So what is a coach to do?

“Try to bring something to practice to make it more exciting and keep the kids motivated,” Rogers said of such things as scrimmaging the boys team or a Korean squad.

Another problem is field space, particularly for Osan and Daegu. Their boys and girls teams share fields that are undersized to begin with; Osan’s field is being renovated, leaving 25 yards on each end available for practice.

“You can only do so many things on a small field,” Osan girls coach Sung Plourde said. “We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning and running.”

In a rare number of cases, the break can lead to good things. Osan AD and former boys coach Tony Alvarado credits the hiatus for helping bring his team together; his captains called for two-a-day practices and a rededication after going 5-10 in the regular season.

“I don’t think we’d have won Far East if we didn’t have the chance to regroup and refocus on the goal,” Alvarado said of his Cougars, who rolled to their first Class A tournament title.

Such rejuvenations are rare, though, and most coaches insist they’d prefer to get on with Far East, rather than wait three weeks.

“Teams are already in tournament condition,” Plourde said. “Kids tend to lose focus. I say play just after KAIAC.”

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Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

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