Cabot's Peter Stratman is back on the job after a one-year soccer sabbatical.
The 12-year veteran boys coach took a season off last fall when the Huskies joined forces with Twinfield to form a cooperative team. This year, Trojans coach Trevor Tait opted not to come back for a seventh season, so Stratman took the reins again for a fresh start working with almost entirely new players.
He returns to the position with a strong background in soccer. Stratman grew up in Washington state and competed on the varsity squad for Bainbridge High School. He played at the NCAA Division III level for Willamette University in Oregon.
Stratman was the middle school coach in 2004 and 2005 at Cabot, where he teaches humanities and social studies for seventh- and eighth-graders. As a high school coach, he helped the Huskies record a winning record for eight years in a row from 2010-2017. Cabot advanced to the semifinals in 2012 and 2013, falling to Twin Valley both times.
Stratman recently returned from a 45-day trip with his family and will hit the ground running during Thursday's opening practice in Cabot at 9 a.m. His team's first scrimmages are scheduled for Aug. 24 at White River Valley School. The final regular-season schedule is nearly complete, and the plan is to rotate practices and games between Cabot and Twinfield on a weekly basis. Stratman boasts a 99-79-11 record at Cabot and will attempt to join the century club in a few weeks.
With soccer teams across Vermont ready to kick off preseason, here are six questions for the new Twinfield-Cabot top boss:
TA: What's it like to be coaching again after a year off? You had quite a few winning seasons at Cabot.
Stratman: "I take it year to year and I'm not really a numbers guy. For me, I love coaching and competition. ... But the reason I loved coaching at Cabot is every year you have these ingredients to work with, and you have to take those ingredients and maximize them as a soccer player and a person to form something special and unique as a team. Coaches do that at larger programs with more people to pick from. But in a smaller program, you have to take some risks. Even if a person is not experienced playing that position, you try to make it work. I've always relished that position at Cabot — it's a little bit like The Bad News Bears. And I also loved coaching at Cabot because I had them in my middle school classroom. We built a culture of mutual respect where we all recognized our roles and responsibilities. Nobody is infallible, but at the end of the day it was bigger than any one person. ... We had a lot of fun, and everyone improved as players and individuals. And we also won a lot of games. I was a new coach at that point but I learned along the way."
TA: When did you hear that the coaching position was open and decide to apply?
Stratman: "Trevor Tait has run the Twinfield program and he's done a remarkable job, even with the declining numbers. They were 5-9 last year and we had some players go over to play for them from Cabot, and they spoke highly of Trevor. They approached me last May and just said Trevor was planning on not coming back, and would I be interested in the job. Frankly, at the time, I didn't know if I was — just because it's a different format and a different setting than when I coached at Cabot. Sometimes when something is new and different, you have to really think about it. I had to make sure I was making the right choice for my family, and whether this would fit with my style of leadership. The more I thought about it, I do love coaching and I do love the opportunity to build a team. And I thought I'd give it a shot."
TA: I know Twinfield struggled for awhile, but they had a breakthrough season last year. Do you think there's more motivation for those players who haven't won many games, or to beat teams they've never beaten?
Stratman: "I don't like to measure success in wins and losses. It can be tricky because your strength of schedule is obviously a factor. Winning can be a cultural norm, and losing can be a cultural norm. I really want to come in with this idea that you work hard, you aim on improving, you're positive and you aim to have fun. No matter the final score, you're going to feel good about your performance. I'd rather play skilled teams and lose than play teams that are less skilled and win every game. You're not going to have the same growth opportunities playing teams that are consistently weaker than you. Records are deceiving that way. Going 5-9 is a respectable record for a developing team — that's fantastic. I want to build on that record-wise, and more importantly I want to build a culture of winning here. And Trevor has done a great job building that foundation. You're playing to make your teammates better. I would rather have 11 players on the field who have that mentality, as opposed to one player who is going to take the team on their back every time. The team needs that internal push to be the best they can be."
TA: Do you know how the numbers are looking for preseason?
Stratman: "As a soccer coach you could have 15-20 (players) on the high end, 12-15 on the low end. With a bigger team I would have to approach it differently and I would have to motivate players to get a starting spot. It's a different challenge that players aren't so aware of — at least consciously. As a player, I wanted to play. I was in a big program in high school and you had to compete against your teammates. As a coach at Cabot, I've had to manufacture that competitive drive just to be the best you can be — not necessarily because you want to start or play more. Because of that, we've had other intangible benefits like putting the best team on the field any given day against any given opponent. I want to build a team that's better as a team than they are as individuals. And the most skilled players don't always win. Because I've had 13-15 guys to work with some years, we weren't always the most skilled players as a collection. But we were always a competitive team. And we also had years where we had a core of really solid players. That's what happens at these small schools: You have players who can be leaders with more skill and in a tactical way. It doesn't mean they're the only guys out of 11 who can play, but you can build as a team around that confidence."
TA: How do you feel heading into the first day of preseason? Do you know many of the players?
Stratman: "When I came back for preseason in previous years I would know which Cabot players would be returning. I would know how to communicate with my team. Now it's a fresh start and Twinfield has a new AD. I'm excited to see how it goes. I'm imagining that there are guys who still don't know if they want to commit to play a fall sport. I'm not under the illusion that we're going to come out from Day 1 and have 18 really strong players who are ready to jump in. It would be awesome if that happened. And there's only one player from Cabot who I've coached. So all the rest don't know me and they don't have any legacy of that culture."
TA: I just heard that the Central Vermont League disbanded and there have been some challenges trying to pick up extra games. How does the schedule look now?
Stratman: "I saw a draft of the schedule, but I don't know if it's finalized or not. We have a couple games against Burke and we have a game against Rivendell. Those would be games against consistently competitive programs. I think there are also three games against Christ Covenant, and maybe three against Blue Mountain. When I first started it seemed very stable. Rochester, Chelsea, Concord, Craftsbury, Whitcomb, Cabot, Twinfield — those were all CVL teams. And we would pick up non-league games against Hazen, Rivendell or West Rutland. In the division, you'd see teams like Black River and Twin Valley and Arlington and Proctor do well. D-IV had 17 or 18 teams, and 12 of those teams were pretty competitive typically. So I don't know what this will look like in three or four years. ... And maybe what will happen over time is there will be more collaborative teams for athletics, so there aren't these small programs. I don't know how it works when you have nobody to play anymore, but that seems to be what's happening."