Our head soccer consultant Andy Shakarji, recently interviewed our former client Robbie Bruce. Former Scotland Schools National Team midfielder had a successful first season playing for Louisiana State University Shreveport. Robbie gives a great insight on life as an international student athlete, the demands, challenges and experience he has gained as a freshman.
You have now completed your first season for LSUS. How would you sum up your performance this season individually and the team?
Individually, I think I have performed reasonably well in my first season at LSUS. I played in all 18 games in conference, where I started 17 of them. This shows that coach thought highly enough of me to make an impact on every game. I was able to help the team by scoring 5 goals and provided 8 assists during the conference season. Even though I played in a CDM position, I was still able to provide a good force of attack, as well as help out my team in defence. I was also selected by all the other coaches in our conference to be in the All-Conference First Team. This is a really good honour as I was one of two freshmen to be in this team. Collectively, we had a record of 12 wins and 6 losses. We were slightly disappointed in our record as this is certainly not the best record and we expect to improve this next season. We narrowly missed out on a play-off spot as we were defeated in our last game.
Tell me how the adjustment period was moving to LSUS from Scotland?
I adjusted really quick. The fact that I came over a month before school started really helped me out. If I came over as school was starting I may have fallen behind in classes and on the pitch. The school is not a large school, this means it is easy to get to know classmates and teachers. This helped me a lot as I was able to feel like I could talk to people if I needed help in class. Living with everyone on the team made it really simple to come to terms with what to do and when to do it. I was in an apartment with 3 other freshmen. This means we are all on the same boat so could turn to each other if we had a question. The soccer isn’t too different to what I am used to in Scotland, therefore I knew what coach was asking for when in training.
How was your preseason? What were some of the challenges you faced coming into a new team and the conditions.
I’m not going to lie, the preseason we had was really tough. We had double sessions everyday apart from Sundays. It was very demanding physically and sometimes we didn’t have the ball to play with which made it mentally hard. Some of the boys came in out of shape, but by the end of preseason we were all match fit. The heat and humidity was what made it hardest. In Louisiana around August and September, it is almost 100% humidity all of the time. So, when you were walking to the field you would break a sweat. The ice baths after every session was a blessing, cooled me right down and helped my muscles to recover. At the end of our preseason we had fitness tests that we HAD to pass or we could not play. Fortunately, I was able to pass them so I could get on the pitch. Some of the boys were unable to complete these tests and had to sit out some of games until they were able to pass them. This gave me an idea of how harsh college soccer can be in the U.S.
You had many incoming freshman players along with yourself. With such a young squad, what were the expectations going into the season from coach Bohn?
Coach Bohn had really high expectations. As did we all. In meetings we would discuss what we would like to achieve this year and almost everyone said to reach Nationals. After preseason and training games we were looking very well as a team. But we didn’t know too much about what our opposition would be like. The school is well known for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams being really competitive. These teams are good enough to make it to nationals for the past 7 years. The men’s baseball is also well known for doing really well during season and they usually get into the National tournament. This meant that everyone at our University thought we would also do very well. A lot of pressure.
Speaking of Coach Bohn, how has your relationship with the coaching staff developed throughout your freshman year at LSUS?
The coaching staff are really great. Coach Bohn provides an enormous amount of help towards the whole programme. He gets a lot of respect from all the players for this. Personally, I get on really well with coach. He is a very intelligent soccer coach and knows a lot about the game. This allowed him to organize training sessions specifically to what we need to improve on. He always found a way to make me give that extra amount of energy to maybe secure a victory or push so we didn’t lose. Off the pitch, he is a very helpful person. If anyone struggled in classes, he would be there to organize tutoring sessions to improve their GPA and boost their confidence in the subject. He is an approachable person who will try to help you with any problem you may have, if its family issues back home, or issues with something at the University.
You had played at high level in Scotland coming through the professional youth ranks at Elgin City FC. You have also represented the Scotland Schools National team. How does football or soccer, I should say, differ from youth soccer in Scotland?
The level of soccer out here is a lot higher than I expected. In our preseason games, we played some really good teams. Of course, there are those teams in the conference that cannot compete with the rest. But they act as opportunity games for those who don’t play as much to prove themselves to coach. At the top of the conference it is very tight. The top 5 teams could probably all beat each other. In each team, there are players that stand out. You think they could play at a high level, just like in Scotland.
With having many internationals in the team from Brazil, Spain, Australia, Venezuela and of course America. How has the various styles of soccer helped your game?
The varied styles of play helped me out a lot as I learned a lot of new ways to play. Those from South American were flare players and they had great technique. Training against them allowed me to defend better when it came to games and I was up against the next Neymar. A couple of the boys are from the Netherlands, and they play with the ball. This meaning that they do not do a lot of running, they simply pass the ball about and leave it to do all the work. All of the different styles helped my game as I can play in many styles now. Speed the game up when it becomes dead, or slow it down if we need to relax.
What it is like training and spending every day with your team mates?
It’s brilliant. Training everyday makes it feel like a professional club. You have a good session and get well looked after by the physio and coaching staff. Being with all my teammates is great as we are always laughing and becoming closer, which is important in a team. We have had FIFA tournaments, 3v3 tournaments, and generally doing everything together. We are never bored as we always find something to do.
How have you found the demands of balancing your training and games with your education?
For a start, it was tough. But if you keep on top of your schoolwork and do things as soon as you get them assigned, it is no problem. Always put education first, even though I came out here for soccer, the education will last longer. Always ask your teacher for help. If they can’t help, there will be a place for students to get tutoring or help with subjects. Here at LSUS we have a Student Success Centre. This is open every day and provides free tutoring throughout the day. If you are travelling on the road, make sure you take something to study. Bus journeys can be very long, this makes it a perfect opportunity to study or complete assignments. If you are staying overnight in hotels, it is a perfect time to do some more school work.
What were some of the highlights this season?
For me, scoring goals and enjoying games were my highlights. My team is really tight-knit. We have a great time when travelling together so I would also say that is another highlight for me. Getting into the All-Conference First Team is also a highlight. That will remain a great memory for me as I never thought It would be possible for a freshman. I was also able to travel to places I never thought I would, so that was a boost.
Congratulations on being named First Team All-Conference. To have that recognition as a freshman, what was your initial response when you found out?
Couldn’t believe it at first. There are many good players in my position in my conference, so I imagine it would’ve been really close. When coach told me that I was named in the first team I was overwhelmed. After all it is what I came out here to do, play soccer to the best of my ability. I thought I had a pretty strong season and I enjoyed every minute of it. But this was unexpected and served as an added boost. Definitely something I am proud of.
You are now in your off season. Tell me what your training schedule has been like in preparation for next season?
From our last game we played, we only had two weeks off. After our two-week break, we were straight back to the grind. No ball included, just in the gym to improve our strength. We also do aerobic runs and other fitness related activities to prepare us for our next season. We train six days a week, and sometimes we may have double-sessions. The coach only just started to introduce the ball and do some technical work with it, but nothing major. The team have a few spring friendly games lined up so we may start to do more game-related work around March time.
What do you miss the most from back home?
Family, friends, and my dogs without a shadow of a doubt. It is easy to stay in touch with everyone back home, which makes it lot easier. I wouldn’t say I am home sick because I’m not that kind of person. I’m always too busy to even think about it. The first 5 months I was out here flew by and I was home for Christmas in no time. It seems that this semester is going by really quick as well. I know in a short time I will be home and get to see my family and friends for a long period of time.
What are you goals for next season? What do you want to improve on now that you have a year experience of college soccer in the States?
Next season I definitely aim for reaching nationals. There are no excuses, but with the amount of hard work we have put in over the past couple months, I am sure we have a better chance of reaching nationals next season. I also aim to get into the All Conference First Team again. I would like to improve on my decision making. Sometimes, in this past season, my lack of experience in college soccer was evident. Now I have one year under my belt. I will be able to learn from mistakes I made and build on them to help my decision making.
To wrap things up, what advice would you give for young players considering pursuing a soccer scholarship to the United States?
100% go for it. I have had the time of my life so far. I have met so many people, played against really good teams, and enjoyed every minute of it. Also I have got to see parts of the world I never thought I would. The people I have met are from all over the world and have so many different cultures which is really intriguing to me. This is an opportunity you can’t turn down. I have nothing too bad to say that will throw you off. I have not regretted this decision once since coming out here in August.