By Kyle Melnick
Inside the Maryland men’s soccer team’s locker room, signs of positive words cover the walls.
No matter where the Terps players look they’re reminded of the squad’s values. In one corner the Maryland players see “Perseverance,” while in another they see “Commitment” and “Concentration.” On the field, the positive messages don’t stop. Coach Sasho Cirovski writes “WW” on his wrist, which stands for “winning words.”
Since Cirovski took the Terps heading coach job in 1993, he’s made positivity a core value of the team. By doing so, he’s led Maryland to two national championships and 18 Sweet 16s.
The Terps have relied on an upbeat mindset as they’ve rode through an undefeated season and their best start since 2012. As Maryland, which captured its third consecutive Big Ten conference tournament title Sunday, attempts to win its first national championship since 2008, it’ll continue to lean on optimistic words.
“It’s a core of who I am,” Cirovski said. “We want to keep a positive but inspirational tone the way we communicate player-to-player and player-to-coach. We wanted to show trust and confidence through the idea that winning words leads to winning ways.”
Before each season, the Terps hold a program called “Winning Ways.” The program, which involves personal development workshops for a week, has been a mainstay in Cirovski’s 23 years with the squad. During that week, the players have sessions with Cirovski and other coaches to learn how to stay positive even if they’re unhappy about their performance.
Cirovski’s slogan for Maryland is “Building Champions and Pursuing Championships,” and this program is one of the ways he develops players to win championships. A player’s personality is also one of the biggest factors in Cirovski’s recruitment process. For example, before adding South Carolina Upstate forward Gordon Wild to the roster this past winter as a transfer, Cirovski called South Carolina Upstate coach Greg Hooks and Wild’s mom, Irene, to make sure his personality would fit his program.
“It showed me how ambitious we have to be to win something this year,” Wild said of the program. “All this stuff we do about mindset, it really got into our DNA. We try to embrace it. You also see when we don’t do it, we’re struggling. Thankfully we’re always able to bounce back.”
The message to stay positive doesn’t end after the preseason program. The team emphasizes positivity every practice and game. Plus, Robert Kehoe, who’s a founder of the Winning Ways national program, sends letters to the Terps throughout the year with lessons.
That positivity has helped Maryland through the times it has struggled this season. The Terps have come close to losing some games, but by staying positive, they’ve scored after 10 of the 11 goals they’ve given up this season. Every time Maryland gives up a goal, the squad huddles together on the field and encourages each other.
Senior goalkeeper Cody Niedermeier credited that attitude to Cirovski’s philosophy.
“It makes you believe in the process,” Niedermeier said. “If you’re not playing, keep working hard. If you’re on the field, just keep working. Everything in the end works out, especially here at Maryland. Sasho has the best interest for everyone on and off the field. If we do all the little things, there’s nothing that can stop us.”
Cirovski has coached dozens of players who’ve gone on to have professional careers after they integrated the veteran coach’s message. Niedermeier said Cirovski’s upbeat-style has given him confidence to set goals for a professional career.
For now, however, Niedermeier and the Terps are focused on winning their third national championship in the past 11 years. Despite any pressure the players might feel through the postseason, they’ll be able to look toward their locker room walls and coach’s wrist for assurance.
“It’s everything from when a player makes a mistake, and I say, ‘It’s OK. File it and move on. I believe in you,’” Cirovski said. “Things that encourage them and have them get over the hump of feeling down. More than anything, I want them to know I’m their biggest backer. Our program is about nurturing. It’s about caring and it’s about developing great people. If you do those things right, you have a good chance to win championships.”