Coach John Root's First Season A Success
John Root’s passion for soccer is contagious.
Oakbrook’s fifth-grade math, social studies, and Bible teacher shared his love of the beautiful game with OPS players for four years as coach of the middle school boys and then girls, happily engaging in soccer talk with anyone interested. This season, Root made the move from middle school to varsity, taking over the Oakbrook girls’ program and leading the Knights to the postseason in his first year.
Finding his way to the sidelines as a coach was a dream destination for Root, who began playing soccer at an early age and continued participating through the various stages of his life. When Root got up to the high school level as a student, he continued playing in his local rec league.
“I played some travel ball, indoor soccer, things like that. In college I’d play pick-up soccer. In the time my wife and I spent in Honduras as missionaries we played soccer every day – you live and breathe soccer in Central America. I always knew I wanted to keep it a part of my life in some way.”
When Root came to Oakbrook, he took over the middle school boys’ team and maintained that position for four seasons. Last year, Root helped as an assistant for the varsity girls while being head coach of the middle school girls, which created an easier transition to the varsity head coaching role this year.
With his experience as a coach at the middle school level, Root already loved the relationship between the middle school and varsity teams. Once in charge of the varsity girls, he decided to take it a step further.
“I’m really passionate about program building,” Root said. “When I was talking with (middle school coach) Alicia Johnson at the beginning of the year, we really saw a vision of one program. We wanted all the girls to feel like they’re part of one big team. Our practices are at the same time on the same field. While we do break up in separate groups, there’s always some overlap. The middle school girls can kick the ball around and look over their shoulder and see the varsity girls and know they have someone to look up to. We want the varsity players to be role models and encouragers – it brings everyone up to a higher level.”
Root is seeing evidence of his program building in the lower school as well – for both boys and girls.
“I was looking down at the lower school and seeing the third and fourth graders kicking the ball like crazy on their turf field,” he said. “Success breeds success. Once you start having some success with the program, the other students see something they want to be a part of. We already have a really big group of sixth graders who wanted to come out and try it. That’s the program we’re growing, and something that’s going to be really special in a few years.”
While Root knew this year’s varsity team had talent, he was curious how long it would take for the team to gel. The Knights mixed the leadership of five seniors with talented underclassmen – including two eighth-grade starters – to produce a team that gained more and more confidence as the season went on.
By the time the second half of the season rolled around, the Knights had found their identity.
“Honestly, my expectation was that it was going to be a building year to grow as a team,” Root said. “Those expectations were far exceeded. The girls surprised me. I thought it would take us longer to come together as a team, but they figured it out really quickly. I think that’s because they’re all just great friends who like to have fun and compete together.”
Through the ups-and-downs of a first varsity season, Root began making the necessary adjustments to his coaching style. While the middle school team focused more on basic skills and high levels of repetition, the varsity team built on those fundamentals and added strategy and a team dynamic.
And even with a lifetime of soccer under his belt, there were still surprises along the way for the young coach.
“My biggest lesson? Don’t plan practice the night before prom,” Root said. “Apparently that’s when they’re all getting ready. I was sitting on the bench wondering where everybody was.”