Copyright Peter Wallace – Register Citizen 10/10/10
“I think kids perform better when they’re having fun,” says Litchfield High School girls soccer coach and former Tri-State baseball league star Brian Mongeau. Every high school coach in the country bows to the altar of “fun”; some have more knack for it than others. “It’s a tough balance between fun and hard work,” says Mongeau, for whom fun comes easily. “At the end of the day, if you can say ‘We worked 110 percent and had fun,’ then you’ve had a good day. “For me, it’s a matter of teaching the girls when to have fun and when to work hard,” Mongeau says. “They’re kids and they need direction.”
“Fun” is broad territory. You know it when you see it — or get struck by its absence. Like many things, the knack often has seeds in childhood. “I always had fun with sports,” Mongeau said. “It was a huge part of growing up. Some things come naturally, some don’t, but it’s all been fun. I had a great time in sports; I don’t remember wins or losses, just the fun. I think that gets lost sometimes.” For Mongeau and others, life-long bonding comes from playing with the same core group of kids all the way from youth sports through high school. It’s part of the fond memories, but so, of course, are coaches and parents.
“My parents (Richard and Linda Mongeau) were very supportive of me and my brother (Brandon),” Mongeau says. “They never pressured us; there was no certain level we had to reach. My dad coached tons of sports growing up and enjoyed it; that’s a big reason why we enjoyed it.” Winning? Mongeau remembers “constantly losing to the Yankees in Little League,” then being up some years in high school (Torrington High School class of 1996), down in others.” “Even in a 2-12 season, you’re still playing sports,” he says.
As a Red Raider, Mongeau played basketball for two years, soccer and baseball for four, but describes himself as a late bloomer. (“I hit one home run in my whole high school career.”) Nevertheless, he was a baseball co-captain his senior year; the Raiders were NVL baseball champions when Mongeau, an outfielder, was a junior. Mongeau blossomed when he played intramural indoor soccer at Eastern (“That’s where I developed my foot skills) and baseball when he joined the Torrington Rebels in the Tri-State League, when “it was much more of an enjoyable experience for me.”
Mongeau left the Rebels a few years ago, but still plays soccer on a Litchfield over-30 team, the Litchfield County Blues, in the Shoreline Adult Soccer League. Mongeau, the athlete, is his own reminder for Mongeau, the coach, of the performance benefits of having fun. “I’m a much better player now,” he says. Mongeau, who began teaching at Litchfield in 2001, began coaching soccer that year with a U-13 team from the Litchfield Soccer Club. From there he moved to a few years as JV baseball coach at the high school and JV boys soccer coach. Three years ago, the girls soccer job opened up; Mongeau jumped.
“Being a teacher, the biggest thing I keep in the back of my head is that I’m coaching kids, not athletes,” he says. “The best thing you can do is become a fan of the player, point out the good things about the player and support them when they’re with you.” How’s that working out? The first year, the Cowgirls won just enough games to qualify for the tournament, then made a nice run to the Class S Quarterfinals; the next year, they established the best Litchfield girls soccer record ever, 11-4-1. Last year, the Cowgirls were young, winning five games amidst a sea of close losses; this year, they ran off their first six Berkshire League games undefeated, including a come-from-behind win over two-time defending league champion Nonnewaug.
Guaranteed, every year has been a lesson in the fun aspects of working hard.