Lessons for student success from this season’s FSU football, soccer success

The FSU women’s soccer team ended the 2022 season with its 13th appearance in the NCAA final four and an ACC Championship. The football team is preparing for the Cheez It Bowl, its first bowl appearance since 2017.

While the successes of these teams instill a tremendous amount of institutional pride, they also provide important lessons for college students more broadly, thousands of whom will be leaving their undergraduate bubbles for professional careers this December.

Both teams experienced improbable success in 2022. First-year coach Brian Pensky essentially re-recruited and relied on a 20-player roster, more than a third fewer than his top competitors. Coach Mike Norvell, coming in with a 8-13 losing record, had a lot riding on this third season. Ending the regular season 9-3, with the potential for a 10th win, beat pre-season expectations.

Here are four lessons students can use to shape their attitudes and behaviors that can lead to post-graduate success.

First, leadership within the team matters. Quarterback Jordan Travis seemed to will his team to its win over the University of Florida. His drive was evident on the field, rallying the offense to post what would normally be blow-out points on the scoreboard.

FSU football players prepare to face the Ragin' Cajuns at  Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 in Tallahassee, Fla.
FSU football players prepare to face the Ragin' Cajuns at Doak Campbell Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022 in Tallahassee, Fla.

Similarly, when FSU’s soccer team was taken off their game by an aggressive Arkansas team in the NCAA quarterfinals, they regrouped, regained their composure, and dominated the second half leading to their win and advance to the semi-finals. The support for their teammates on the field was evident every moment of the game.

Recognizing and rewarding leadership is not just critical elements of the coaching styles of Norvell and Pensky. It allows each individual to flourish as leaders in their respective positions to build a winning team culture.

Second, both teams showed extraordinary grit and perseverance. Adversity is inevitable. The question is when, how, and where you will face it.

When the FSU soccer team was down 3-0 in the semifinals against the University of North Carolina, the team rallied to score two unanswered goals. In a game where one score typically separates the winning from the losing team, the Seminole soccer team literally played to the last seconds.

Third, find and embrace opportunity as it comes. One of the unsung heroes of the women’s soccer team is Jena Nighswonger, the “queen” of the corner kick. Corner kicks are “set plays” that depend on each player to be in the right place at the right time. The kicker creates opportunities for other players to score.

Throughout the season, women’s soccer players had a knack for being in the right place at the right time on the field. This wasn’t random. Those players trained to identify and take advantage of opportunities as they emerged, spontaneously, through the play of the ball.

Fourth, it ain’t over til it’s over. Giving up isn’t an option. Both coaches drive home the importance of playing to the final seconds, even when behind on the scoreboard. Both teams responded, clawing for every point and inch of turf.

On the football field, Coach Norvell has consistently stressed the importance of playing full-on through 60 minutes of football.

Even though the FSU soccer team was down by one goal in their semifinal match, their final shot at the UNC goal was in the last five seconds of the match.

Media surrounding sports games tends to focus on the most talented players and the most unexpected plays. This is understandable.

Yet the success of a team, whether it’s on the football field, soccer pitch, or workplace, depends crucially on each members’ ability to perform at their highest level consistently and dependably.

If today’s college graduates embrace these lessons from these nationally competitive teams, they will set themselves and their colleagues up for professional success whether in work or in graduate school.

Samuel Staley, director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University
Samuel Staley, director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University

Samuel R. Staley is director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. He joined the FSU faculty in 2011 with more than 20 years of leadership and management experience in private nonprofit organizations.

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Lessons for student success from this season’s FSU football, soccer success