Mike Shebuski has evolved in his 15 seasons coaching the Prior Lake boys soccer team, but one simple message has always been clear.
"Better people. Better leaders. Better Lakers."
"I've been surrounded by a lot of great people — mentors, coaches, teachers, administrators, parents, student-athletes and friends — and they have all helped guide the program one way or another over the years," Shebuski said. "I'd like to think that motto has always been at the heart of what we do, but over the past several years we've been a lot more intentional about identifying our purpose, putting it out there, and letting it be known that this is what is important to us."
Shebuski has always preached hard work, team chemistry and competing hard. His teams have also won their fair share of games, including a Section 2AA title in 2017 and one South Suburban Conference crown (2014) since the league debuted in 2010.
Heading into this season, Shebuski had an SSC record of 49-31-5. His overall playoff record in Section 2AA, arguably the toughest section in the state, is 13-14.
But Shebuski has never let wins and losses define him or his team. Sure, his squads always want to contend for section and SSC titles, but there's more to competing at the high school level than winning alone.
"My hope is that players understand how important genuine connections are," Shebuski said. "We find ourselves talking quite a bit about how great it is to have people around who support us, challenge us, look out for us, and keep us on the right path. I hope they leave the program feeling they had that in their time here."
Shebuski wants to prepare his players for what's to come after high school.
"More than anything, we want them to be able to connect with others around them, to be prepared to handle the challenges that life brings, and to understand the importance of continuing to listen, learn, and better themselves every day," he said.
There are no playoffs for boys soccer this fall due to COVID-19. The Lakers are playing just an SSC schedule, and are happy to be back on the field after sports were canceled last spring.
"In the last year, and especially through this past spring and summer, there has been a lot of time — and a lot of need — to listen, reflect, learn and change," Shebuski said. "For our program, we had to stop and think. What's our purpose? Are we committed to that purpose in everything we do? And, how can we change for the better?
"In my years coaching, I think we've always focused on working hard and being competitive, but we have also tried to spend a lot of time on and off the field talking about leadership," Shebuski added. "The X's and O's are necessary, but the other conversations are the ones that help create an environment where our student-athletes can really learn and enjoy being competitive."
Shebuski played Division I soccer at a high level at the University of Maryland after his high school days at Bloomington Jefferson, graduating in 1997. He's also a member of the school's athletic Hall of Fame.
The game of soccer has not changed much since Shebuski played. He doesn't think the kids have changed much either over the years.
"I think the change lies in their experiences," he said. "Many of their day-to-day experiences are different than ours were growing up, but both provide opportunities to learn. The key is having people around who are going to help us learn the life lessons that will make us better people in the end."
There are more sport options for high school kids today, as well more year-round training offerings. Shebuski also feels there can more pressure and expectations on athletes today in all sports.
"In the soccer world, we have development academies, and countless ever-expanding and growing clubs and private training programs competing for players and families," he said. "With all these different opportunities, competing for participation comes an increased level of pressure and expectation starting and younger ages.
"In our current environment, the experiences that kids have in front of them are a lot bigger than anything I can remember trying to work through growing up in Bloomington in the 1980s and 1990s," Shebuski added. "These experiences, along with the constant connections to social media and immediate access to all that's happening in the world, can bring constant pressure and a wide range of feelings and emotions to sort through and deal with daily.
"Again, with the right people in our corner, it can be easier to navigate, but it's still a lot. It's important for us to recognize these differences, as these are impacting the players that are dropped off at the fields, or the school, every day."