The Olivas Way: How Harmon soccer has found success and how other coaches can duplicate it


By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com

There are times when I'm right about a prediction or a gut feeling about someone or something when it comes to Kansas City, Kan., high school sports.

There are times when I'm wrong.

In the case of Harmon boys and girls soccer coach Carlos Olivas, I was correct.

I first met Coach Olivas when I was covering spring sports in 2010 as he was in the early stages of building a great girls soccer program at J.C. Harmon High School. Olivas, as a coach, left a good impression with me.

From there, the girls program has won three straight league titles since 2010 and Olivas won a league championship this season in his first as the boys head coach.

Oh, and he's also coached the team to the "final four" in the 5A boys soccer tournament, the first time that's happened at J.C. Harmon High School.

Obviously, he's not the only good coach we cover. But Harmon soccer is the toast of the town at this moment and it's time to dig deep into why I think Olivas has been a successful coach and leader at Harmon.

Here's how Olivas has won.

1. He knows the game. Olivas was a player on one of Harmon's previous regional championship teams. He took that knowledge and experience playing soccer and crafted it, using it to become a successful coach. The drills I've seen both of his programs do during practice are creative and help improve them. He's also a really good tactician who can make adjustments needed to win games.

2. He trusts his young players. Over the years, Olivas has played several sophomores in the girls and boys programs. One of the fatal flaws of many coaches at the high school or college level, in my opinion, is the "wait your turn" mentality. In other words, the best of the best don't play until they become juniors - or even seniors in some cases. With Olivas, there seems to be a philosophy of letting the best players play no matter how old they are. That's the right mindset. I can't tell you how many times I've seen sophomores (and even a few freshmen) lose out on playing time because of that stone age mentality of bringing up a class of players together, even if a few of them are varsity ready right away. And for what it's worth, I think Piper football is doing a great job as well in this area.

3. He has high expectations. Other media outlets are a little surprised at how well Harmon is doing this year in soccer. I'm not and you can bet the coach isn't too surprised, either. For Olivas, this is not a Cinderella Story. He expected this. (Well, I don't know if he expected 18-1-0 in the first season....but he's there to win regional titles and maybe a state title.) High expectations matter. Low expectations is what often hurts KCK teams when they go against Johnson County programs. Harmon is 3-1 against Johnson County this year - they also have great wins against programs from Topeka and Leavenworth, too.

4. Few cupcakes on the schedule. You can't control all of your schedule. If your league stinks each year, you can't help that. But you can get into top quality tournaments and schedule some powerful programs in the non-con schedule. Olivas has done that. Each year with the girls program, the schedule has become tougher. This year, the boys team took part in a very tough season opening tournament in Blue Valley. They finished second. Having interviewed Olivas earlier this week, he expects to put more Johnson County teams on the schedule in the next few years. That's the right way to do it. You don't win titles by beating cupcakes. You win titles by beating the best. I really think weak scheduling has hindered some of the KCK programs in the past. At Harmon, that's not the case with soccer with Olivas in charge. More programs need to do what Olivas is doing in this area.

5. Discipline and smart play. One of the things that struck me about Olivas early on as a head coach was how much he stressed discipline and academics. He required higher academic standards for his girls team when I first started covering the program. And again, he's not alone in this area. However, another thing that dooms KCK teams is committing stupid penalties or making silly mistakes in important moments. I can't tell you how many flags were thrown on the KCK football teams this season. The United Nations has less flags than the KCKAL football year did this season. When you watch Harmon play soccer (whether it be boys or girls), one thing you'll notice is the teams get better and eliminate mistakes during the course of the season. That's coaching.

6. He connects well personally with his kids. He took over the boys program after a controversial coaching change last spring. He won the team over and the team has won 18 out the first 19 games in Olivas' coaching career. Results speak very loudly. With the case of Harmon soccer, you may need ear-muffs to deal with the noise.

There may be coaches in KCK who are as good in their respective sport as Olivas is in soccer.

But there's not a better coach in any sport in KCK than Olivas.

Period.