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Perspective: Coaches get butterflies, too

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Editor's note: Over the coming months, local high school head coaches will periodically share with us the experiences and challenges they encounter as they guide our student-athletes on the sports fields. Offering the coach’s perspective today is Amanda Eid, who recently guided the Greenfield-Central girls soccer team to a sectional championship in her rookie season at the helm. — Brian Harmon

The day has drug on. I could hardly concentrate on anything anyone said to me. Lunchtime was a blur.

I don’t even really remember my drive to the fields. My surroundings are fuzzy, and everyone’s voice seems muddled and distant. I’ve been distracted all day, hardly paying attention to what’s going on around me. As the official blows his whistle to signal the end of warm-ups and instructs us to line up for the National Anthem, I feel my body move in reflex. The crowd lined in the bleachers across the field is a haze. The notes of the singer’s voice seem flat and garbled. When I hear my name called, I wave in a fog to the fans.

Upon completion of the opening ceremonies, I feel my heartbeat quicken. I pace up and down the field as my palms begin to sweat. I grind my teeth and narrow my eyes, mentally preparing for the next 80 minutes. I take a deep breath and smell the familiarity of the freshly painted and newly cut grass. Finally, the official’s whistle blows and I snap to attention. Finally, I can focus. Finally, it’s game time.

My team springs into motion, running down the field and calling for the ball. Overlapping runs. Give-and-go plays. Crosses. The field is a maze of movement, excitement, and energy. I am home.

For me, the feelings I experience before a big game as a coach are not much different from the feelings I used to experience before a big game as a player. It’s hard to focus for most of the day, the clock doesn’t seem to budge, and I tend to be a little more tightly wound than normal, which is really saying something. The only difference seems to lie in my pregame preparation, as I no longer find myself carb-loading or excessively hydrating. Okay, that’s a lie, I always carb-load, but it’s probably not entirely necessary anymore.

What’s really different are the feelings I have during and after a big game. As a player, my nerves used to subside as soon as the official blew his whistle for the first time. As a coach, my nerves never really subside until the game is over. I expend my nervous energy by pacing up and down the sidelines, often coming dangerously close to stepping on the field myself. It’s difficult, as a former player, to feel a sense of relinquished control of the game, knowing that the most we can do from the sidelines is coach and hope our advice, instincts and experience help. As a rookie coach, there is not much comfort in this information.

When the referee has blown his final whistle, the last shot has been taken, the last pass has been made and the clock reads 0:00, the difference in the life of a coach becomes remarkably different from that of a player. When I was playing in high school and college, the first thing I would do after a win was celebrate with my teammates. We would all go to Wendy’s, eat our weight in chicken nuggets and Frostys and talk about how we were all going to be Olympic and national team players one day.

Eventually the excitement would wear off, and we would start preparing for the next game, but we generally let ourselves bask in the glow of victory for a few days.

As a coach, I do not bask. After congratulating my girls on a well-played game and handing out accolades and kudos where necessary, I immediately begin focusing on the next game. In fact, sometimes I try to start mentally preparing my team for the next game before we’ve even gotten on the bus to go home. Because they are respectful and conscientious young ladies, they usually nod and pretend that they’re listening to what I’m saying, when in reality they’re probably just eager to partake in their own celebration.

For them, preparations for the next game will begin the next day at practice. For me, it starts immediately.

On the bus ride home or on the walk off the field, I chat my assistant coach’s (and athletic director’s, and parents’, and generally anyone within earshot) ears off about what we need to do better and how we can improve over the next few practices. I go home and replay the game in my mind, running my own mental version of instant replays over and over again until I finally exhaust myself, fall asleep and start all over in the morning.

I think a lot of coaches, like players, are their own worst enemy. As a player, I used to beat myself up quite a bit over making a bad pass or getting beat on defense. As a coach, I beat myself up over not playing players in the right positions, or not focusing on a certain technique or strategy enough before a big game. There are a lot of differences between being a coach and being a player, but this is one I feel will stay with me forever. I tell everyone that while I’m teaching the girls on my team, I am also constantly learning from them.

One of the many things they taught me this season is that it’s okay to celebrate successes every once in a while, and it’s okay to make mistakes. My defensive midfielder wrote in Sharpie on her cleats “next play” to remind herself to look ahead to the next play, because you hurt your team more by dwelling on a bad play than you do by making the bad play in the first place.

Whether you’re a player, a coach, a referee or a fan, it’s not about having the perfect game. It’s about making mistakes, learning from them, and figuring out what to do to overcome repeating these same mistakes. And every once in a while, remembering it’s okay to sit back and enjoy when you’ve done something right.

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