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Jayhawks break down styles, importance of communication

From all-out screams to a head nod or a look, talking on the pitch is crucial for Kansas women's soccer

4 min read
Kansas midfielder Avery Smith plays the ball while waiting to see a teammate come open during a recent KU match. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Throughout the years, soccer has been called “the beautiful game,” by countless people, but without communication the sport can turn pretty ugly.

The Kansas women’s soccer team knows that well, and after Thursday’s 0-0 draw against Baylor at Rock Chalk Park, three Jayhawks took time to discuss the importance of communication on the pitch — what it looks, feels and sounds like.

“A little piece of communication can be the difference between getting a goal or not getting a goal,” senior midfielder Avery Smith told R1S1. “And it can be the difference in a game, so I think it’s super-crucial.

There are, of course, different styles of communication on the soccer field, and, perhaps more importantly, different areas where certain types of communication are more important than others.

Senior defender Mackenzie Boeve looks for somewhere to go with the ball on a throw-in during a recent KU match. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Most of it starts with the goalkeeper and back-line defenders.

“We see the whole field, so we know what’s going on and we have to help people in front of us,” senior defender Mackenzie Boeve told R1S1. “If we don’t talk, things can break down.”

That talk can include simple cues like where to run or which direction to funnel the ball or more detailed direction like if certain areas of the field look “pinched” or if their teammates in front of them need to play wider to start their attack.

In the transition from defense to offense, communication is all about awareness and letting your teammates know you’re there and know where you’re planning to go.

“In transition, it’s just being accountable and keeping forward,” junior forward Brie Severns said. “We need numbers and we need people communicating that they’re there and that the player with the ball has support, in any way, shape or form.”

For Severns, that means yelling and screaming as loud as she can. That, she said, has always come natural for her, but she said that even the more shy and reserved players can thrive in that area if they’re confident in their roles and comfortable doing their jobs.

“I’m a loud person in general,” Severns said. “So, even in club before even going to high school, I knew I wanted the ball so I was loud. When you’re loud and you’re open, things just connect and work out.”

Severns said that senior Shira Elinav is the loudest player on the Kansas roster and that makes her one of the best communicators. While Smith agreed that Elinav is among the loudest, she said all 11 KU starters have shown the willingness and ability to be loud and communicate when needed.

While that hasn’t led to a ton of wins so far this season, it also has prevented a ton of losses. KU’s tie with Baylor on Thursday night moved the Jayhawks to 3-3-6 on the season, with a home match against No. 21 Texas slated for 1 p.m. Sunday at Rock Chalk Park.

Part of the KU core’s consistency in communication comes from their familiarity with one another.

“A lot of us have been saying that this year is the closest we’ve been as a group, so I think our communication has been through the roof,” Smith said. “I’m really proud of us and just the way that we’ve been able to ride together and communicate with each other.”

Added Boeve: “I think it helps a lot. Even some girls who maybe don’t get as many minutes, they help us talk and we love to hear what they say because that chemistry has just been built already.”

The tight-knit nature of the roster also helps KU’s communication in other ways — a head nod here, a look there and things like that.

“The non-verbals are big,” Boeve said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we can play off of each other without actually hearing any communication.”

That, of course, is never the goal, though, and Severns said that communication is a key part of the recipe for success — on defense, in transition, on the attack and before and during set pieces.

“Definitely everywhere, honestly,” Severns said. “Without communication we can’t defend correctly, we aren’t working together, we aren’t into the attack together, we don’t know where people are going.”

KU junior Brie Severns tries to save the ball from going out of bounds during the Jayhawks' home match with Baylor on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023 at Rock Chalk Park. [Kansas Athletics photo]

Said Smith, when asked to break down the different types of communication at different areas of the field: “I think on defense it’s more directional – mark this player, mark this space. And, on offense, it’s more, give me the ball or I’m open or I’ll make this run. And then your goalkeeper’s a huge part of it, too. She sees the whole field, so she’s the first line of communication. I know (KU goalkeeper) Melania (Pasar has) stepped up a lot with her communication this year.”

Regardless of who’s talking or when, the Jayhawks know that everyone on their roster understands the importance of communication in their quest to win matches and make a run in the Big 12 Conference.

Overall, the trio gives the current KU team high marks for its communication skills.

“Sometimes I think it depends on the day,” Boeve said after Thursday’s draw. “Today, I would say we were a solid 8 or a 9. It’s kind of just a known thing that everyone’s got to talk and help each other out.”

Added Smith: “You can have the most talented team and the most talented players, but if you don’t have communication you can never reach your highest potential.”

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