The Salem boys soccer season ended in a 1-1 tie with Alcovy at home. The team didn't meet its goal of making the playoffs despite managing to win three of its final four region games, but first-year head coach Anani Amaizo has built a foundation for great things on the pitch at Salem.
Born and raised in France, Amaizo - whose parents are from West Africa - went to college in the U.S, but at the time it was much to his surprise and chagrin.
"I came to Boston. I didn't know I was coming to go to school," Amaizo said. "For me, I was just coming here to visit. Before I realized that, my brother told me, ‘You're going to go to school here and stay here in the U.S.' I was really upset about it because I was going to sign a contract to play pro. I was really upset with my dad, but now I realize that what he did for me was good because I have my education. I can use the soccer right now by coaching and developing other players."
Amaizo played soccer in college and he eventually made his way to Atlanta in 2004. He has coached club soccer at RYSA, SSA and U12 girls in Lithonia. Amaizo was an assistant coach with Rockdale's varsity girls last year before getting the job at Salem.
When he got here, Amaizo says he didn't like the culture of Salem soccer, so he changed it.
"When I was in school, we had alumni, senior night and all kinds of stuff," Amaizo said. "I didn't see that here, so I wanted to bring that here [because] we need the alumni to support the program as well because they already played the game and they're former students of the school. We need support from them so that the new kids can see what they have done when they were here. That will also motivate them to perform better."
Amaizo says there was no organization or accountability when he started the job. He wanted his players to have a passion for the game and to compete like they could play at the next level.
"At the beginning of the season the kids were kind of like, ‘Yeah, we're just going to go through the season.' And I just had a meeting with them I said, ‘Listen, we have an objective. This game is not just go play and go home. If you have any ambition or any future you want to play the next level with this game, everything starts here from the high school,'" Amaizo said.
Amaizo met with the seniors and discovered that Salem hadn't been to the playoffs in eight years. He told them that it was up to them to write a new history by working hard so they could qualify for the playoffs.
At the beginning of the season, the players were coming late to practice and playing around. Amaizo, whose coaching philosophy is hard work on the field, told them it had to stop. As the season progressed they played well and their mindset changed. They started to work hard on and off the field.
The Seminoles missed the playoffs by just one game. Had they beaten Lanier at home in a game they lost 3-1, Salem would have accomplished its goal of qualifying for the playoffs. Still, Amaizo has seen the growth in his players and he believes its just the beginning.
"If we play as a team and we work as a team, it's going to be very, very difficult for any other team to beat us. But if everyone wants to play individually and show their own talent and we don't play as a team we're never going to succeed," Amaizo said.
Amaizo says that he wants his players to come back with the mindset to work hard and follow his philosophy. His goal next year is to treat them like college players and give them a sense of what the next level is like and if they can play at that level. Amaizo wants his players to believe in hard work, determination, have a passion for the game and heart.
"Once we give everything on that field and we follow that motto we will always be successful," Amaizo said.
In America, soccer is low on the totem pole of sports popularity. Next year, Amaizo wants to take his players to France where soccer is developed more in June to get another idea of what soccer is about.
Amaizo said, "It's going to change their mind about the way they view soccer."