Unity Christian soccer all about having fun
Hudsonville – When asked what his formula to success is, Hudsonville Unity Christian soccer coach Randy Heethuis thought for a while, and gave an answer many might not think would come from a coach that has led the Crusaders girls team to eight state championships, and the boys team to three.
"We tend not to take things too serious here," Heethuis said. "You can go back to 2000 when the girls team started getting good. The emphasis has been having fun, and playing the game they love and enjoy, And enjoy playing with people they enjoy being with.
"The winning has taken care of itself, It is a byproduct of what we are doing, playing the game we thoroughly enjoy. We emphasize playing your hardest, day in and day out. That is something I’m most proud of, that when you play Unity, they know they are in for a battle."
Most teams are in a battle when they play the Crusaders, and more often than not they come on the short end of the scoreboard.
In his 25 years of leading the girls program, Heethuis has coached Unity Christian to those eight
Division 3 state titles, including six straight (2005-10). Three times they’ve finished second.
In his 21 years of leading the boys program, Heethuis has led Unity Christian to those three Division 2 titles, and one runner-up finish.
This year’s boys team is 15-1 heading into the week and ranked No. 1 in Division 2.
"You have to have good players," Heethuis said. "We have been fortunate to have very good parental support, and that support allows players to foster their skills. And we have numerous players that come from families that let them play soccer. I can go down a list were siblings have played in the program, and success trickles down — success breeds success. When players see older siblings achieve success, they want to be a part of it. That has perpetuated itself."
One of this year’s top players is senior midfielder Jared Timmer. Timmer credits Heethuis and the coaching staff he has put together for creating a positive environment.
"The coaching staff does such a great job getting us excited no matter what team we play," Timmer said. "There is also good club team (Georgetown Ranger), so we have players that have played together for a long time and then come out for Unity soccer. That helps for all the success."
Heethuis is grateful that his players do come out from their travel teams. Some high school teams have problems retaining their better players from club teams.
"If you look at history of soccer in Michigan 20 or 30 years ago, you think east side of state," Heethuis said. "And when you think academy soccer, you think east side of state. We have been fortunate not to lose players. Big thing, is kids want to play Unity soccer. There they can be part of something special."
And looking back at recent history, they can be a champion. But all players still remember the base philosophy of the program.
"There is always expectations for Unity soccer to compete against the best teams in the state, that drives us to play better," Timmer said. "But in the end it’s just a sport, and you have to fun. It is going to end someday, so have fun while you are playing it."
The message is getting through.
"I have been privileged enough to work with great kids and families, and have had some excellent coaches to work with," Heethuis said. "And the kids have bought into this. In these days, we can easily fall into the pressure of winning. But we play for an audience of one, go out and want to go out play your best, and they do that."