If coaches' nerves are sometimes frazzled, it's because they care
As a sportswriter acquainted with a variety of coaches in different sports, I've always wondered how some of the different local coaches who have never met would get along with each other.
Say there was a dinner party with Rachel Redding (East Lyme High School girls' soccer), Holly Misto (New London girls' basketball) and Liz Sutman (former Waterford softball) together, with maybe a football guy thrown in, say Coast Guard Academy coach Bill George.
I've always had the notion that they would have more to talk about than soccer, basketball, softball and football.
Take this past Wednesday, for instance.
I attended Coast Guard's weekly team football luncheon, as I always do, at the academy's Officers' Club. George, whose team won a game 33-7 over first-year program University of New England on the previous Saturday, was talking about his misery entering that Week One matchup.
U. New England, which played a pre-varsity schedule the year before, had no game film for Coast Guard to scout.
George, his nerves getting the better of him, went on YouTube and looked up high school film of every single opposing player in preparation. There was no certainty that U. New England, despite its inexperience, wasn't about to go all Immaculate Reception meets the Steel Curtain.
George was extra-nervous.
Later that day, I got texts from two more nervous people.
Redding was at home, awaiting East Lyme's girls' soccer opener against Waterford scheduled for Thursday, which resulted in an eventual weather cancellation. Nervous.
And a friend of mine had just come from what was a particularly important band rehearsal to her. Simultaneously nervous.
It struck me as interesting: three perfectly talented people, all veterans, each among the most supremely professional individuals I know and easily among the most prepared … all a little excited, a little anxious.
So, on Saturday, I was dispatched to cover a doubleheader, Coast Guard-Union football in the afternoon, East Lyme-Old Lyme girls' soccer in the evening.
I asked about the “nerves” theme.
“It's the nature of being in this. It's important. It's the nature of the personality. It's your job,” said George, who has been coaching football at some level since 1982, head coach at Coast Guard since 1999.
George has won two Division III national championships, in 1979 as a player at Ithaca College and in 1991 as an assistant coach at Ithaca.
He recalls that then-Ithaca head coach Jim Butterfield used to tell George and whomever else would listen that they would never understand the demands of being a head coach until that day came.
“I remember the day before my interview here,” George said. “I was at the Holiday Inn. I called Mike Welch up (Ithaca head coach at the time). I wanted him to get me to understand. … I remember looking at Earle Bruce in the locker room up at Michigan (George was a grad assistant under Bruce at Ohio State); I never knew what he felt like.
“You look around and you see these people serving their country,” George said of Coast Guard's players, future officers. “You want to make sure you have the same pride. It's the nature. It's your persona. You can't ho-hum your sport.”
George is the all-time wins leader at Coast Guard with 64. Redding is the all-time wins leader at East Lyme with 154. Both lost Saturday, then on different fields in separate towns spoke much the same words.
“You have to care. You have to care about the sport you were a part of since you were five years old,” said Redding, who from 2012-16 accumulated an astonishing record of 88-11-4 at East Lyme with four Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament titles and two unbeaten regular seasons. “You want the girls to love it just as much as you did.
“You always wonder, 'Have you prepared your girls enough?' I put a lot of the pressure on myself. Wins are great, but at the end of the day, where they started and where they ended up, are they better players than when they started?”
What the nerves seem to come down to is two things: loving what you do and leadership.
All three members of my nervous trio from last week account for both those things.
Personally, it inspires me.
I just might invite them all to dinner someday to see what they talk about.
Bill, meet Rachel. Rachel, Bill.
A lot alike in their passion as teachers and coaches.
And that's a good thing.
This is the opinion of Day Scholastic Sports Editor Vickie Fulkerson.