For The Tribune
Brandan Tabeling worked outside and inside the boundaries of soccer pitches for 20 years.
The Trinity Lutheran coach’s favorite part of the game is the freedom.
“In America, it doesn’t get much love and recognition. A lot of the sports that are popular here are so structured,” Tabeling said. “Football has constant stop and play, baseball has innings where you’re stopping, basketball has timeouts and you have set plays.
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“Soccer is just a giant open field with 22 guys just running around doing what you have to do to win the game. I’ve always enjoyed running, as silly as that sounds.”
Tabeling graduated from Seymour High School in 2006, playing soccer for four years under former Seymour coach Shawn Mahoney.
He played in soccer leagues in Virginia before moving to Seymour in the third grade, when he started playing in the parks and recreation leagues at Freeman Field.
He began playing travel soccer with the Seymour Cyclones in fourth grade.
Tabeling played soccer for one year at Vincennes University.
He began coaching the boys team at Trinity Lutheran in 2013, assisting Cliff Hutchinson, and became head coach of the Trinity boys the following year.
Trinity’s boys won sectionals at Salem in 2013 and 2014.
After Trinity won those sectionals, the school moved to sectionals at Switzerland County and Jac-Cen-Del.
A third class was added to the soccer playoffs this fall, and the Trinity boys remained in Class A and played in the Christian Academy Sectional at New Albany.
Tabeling favors the three-class system.
“They went to three classes, which I think is a lot better for soccer than two classes,” Tabeling said. “It gives you more of a chance. They increased the number of teams in our sectional. The first four years I was coaching, we played in a four- or maybe five-team sectional.
“This year, it was a seven-team sectional. It helped in a way because there are three classes, so small schools like Trinity are playing a lot more small schools to make it fair, but they added the number of teams in a sectional, so I think it reduced the number of sectional championships to win to move to the next level.”
Tabeling said he has two main reasons for coaching at Trinity.
“One is the love of the sport,” Tabeling said. “I love being around it. I love coaching it. I love getting out there and playing with the guys. The second thing I’ve enjoyed the most is I’m the oldest of five kids, so I’ve always had younger siblings running around with, playing around with.”
The relationships built on and off of the field mean a lot to Tabeling.
“A lot of these guys the past couple years, you’re with them two, three years,” Tabeling said. “This year, we had our first group of freshman to seniors, so four years of running around with these guys. It almost turns into a little brother kind of connection with these guys to where yes, we’re out there to play soccer, but there is a lot more going on than just our two-hour soccer practice for three months.”
Tabeling’s brothers both played soccer at Trinity. He coached Bobby, who graduated in 2015.
“I coached (Bobby) for three years,” Tabeling said. “Bradley graduated before I started coaching. He is doing the athletic training at Scottsburg.”
This past fall, all three of the Tabeling boys were on the sidelines.
“We got invited to the Warrior Cup in Scottsburg this year for the first time,” Tabeling said. “Bobby came down from school and went there for the weekend, so it was fun to have him there while I’m coaching soccer, and Bradley was there working as the athletic trainer.”
The boys’ younger sister, Bailey, 12, plays four different sports, including soccer.
Tabeling said he thought the Scottsburg tournament (Sept. 14 to 16) was when the Cougars showed vast improvement and played well to the end of the season.
Trinity played two matches that Saturday and played that whole weekend with 12 players.
“If we could have played Friday and had some rest and came back Saturday for just the championship, I think our 12 guys we put out there could have competed a little better, and it wouldn’t have got away from us like it did where we just got exhausted” Tabeling said.
He said he enjoys coaching both offense and defense.
“All in all, it’s more fun to coach offense because you’re shooting, you’re scoring, which is what everybody loves in soccer. You’re only going to see a couple goals a game,” he said.
“The five years I’ve been at Trinity, the defensive-minded players we’ve had at the school have been so much fun to coach because they’re hard workers, they’re aggressive, they’re respectful, so whenever you’re trying to teach them something, you’ve got six or seven guys you’re talking to, and every single one is listening to you.”
The front and back lines are coached differently, Tabeling said.
“The offensive part is more fun. The defensive part is more technical and coaching,” he said. “A lot of offense in soccer is you have set design, somewhat set plays, but it’s a lot of luck where you’re getting a lucky ball through, you’re getting a lucky bounce, you’re taking a good shot that gets deflected or whatever.
“Your defense is more where you just have to be tactfully sound and be able to kind of do the basics to kind of shut the other team down.”
Tabeling said he likes coaching at a small school.
“Being a small school, it’s such a tight-knit group,” Tabeling said. “A lot of these kids know other kids in school for years. They play baseball or basketball with them. It’s ‘Come out and give it a try.’ Every year, we have three, four, five that have played soccer for one, maybe two years, and they come out. They give it a try, and they enjoy it, and they all work hard.
“We have 12 to 16 players, and every one of them gives 100 percent. We’d like to have 20 or 24 because then you can scrimmage at practice. We’re always aiming for 18 to 20.”
Tabeling said he thinks the skill level at the high school level has improved over the past five years.
He said he feels having nationally-ranked Indiana University about 60 miles away also has helped increase interest for local kids.
While it would be nice to have NCAA Division I players, Tabeling’s favorite part is the Cougars that work hard and the attitude that they have.
“The skills and the passion for the game has definitely been growing for the past few years,” Tabeling said. “I’ve never had one player that is better than the team.”