Sean Nahas spoke with the media for the first time since being named the interim head coach of the North Carolina Courage on Oct. 9. Following what has been a difficult week for the team — and league as a whole — Nahas spoke at length about the strength of the players.
Here is everything Nahas had to say:
On balancing player needs with preparing to play games:
“What we've done is really just tried to lighten the mood within trainings and provide them with this lack of pressure. ... They've been really professional about how they've handled everything. They've been fantastic in training. The energy has been brilliant, but we've also given them their time and their space. So really, it's been twofold. It's how can we take care of them as people and then still find that balance in terms of getting what we need out of them, and what we want out of them and what they want out of themselves and each other on the field.
“So within training, it has been nothing heavy, just enough information to provide them so that they can take it all in. Implementing a few different ideas, we're not coming in to try and change a whole lot right now, but just really get them back to enjoying it. It’s their outlet. Playing is their outlet. So we didn't want to add any extra stressors to that. So the first session was just sort of a conversation we had with them, addressing everything, and then [we] haven't really discussed it since as a unit, because we wanted to make sure that when we're on the field that that is their safe haven and really allow them to be themselves and flourish and take the weight off their shoulders and get back to enjoying how they love to play the game.”
On the new voices leading at training and the extra attention on the team right now:
“For us, the ‘one voice’ piece was a big thing. But as the assistant coaches in the past, we would always find ways to communicate with the players and establish that trust and establish that relationship so that it wasn't just a singular voice that was always giving the input. Now obviously, the head coach always has the final say, but a lot of things that we would do off the field, they were familiar with. So whether it was little individual things, whether it was unit work, whether it was functional stuff. At some point, they heard our voice, maybe not as much as now, but the relationship between us and the players has always been a good one, in terms of the current staff and so it wasn't too much of a change in terms of that. It was the same ideas. That's why it was important that we didn't change too much to the point where you may lose them, just keeping some type of consistency there so that we can build on it, taking some of the weaknesses that we've had and building on them and improving them. And then really getting back to our strengths within the player qualities individually and collectively and going from there.
“The extra attention has been interesting, and sometimes it upsets me that the league gets the attention in these types of situations when there's so many more positives that go on as well. Look, they're world-class players, but they're also world-class people. And I wish that more of the attention will be brought to that, rather than in these particular circumstances. I've been involved in the women's game for almost 17 years, and to me, it is something that people keep using the word “deserved,” but I feel that it's owed. It's owed to the players that the right type of attention is given to them. The right protection is given to them. And when I addressed it with them, the one thing I told the players is that no one should ever devalue their voice. Their voice is power and that value is important. And just letting them know that the trust is there and my trust towards them and vice versa. And really, we want to get ourselves going forward. How they handle the attention, I've completely left up to them.
“As a club, we've done a wonderful job of providing them with not necessarily a sports psych, but a trauma psych that they have access to whenever they need it. We provided them with PR meetings to sort of help in coping with that. I think the media has done a wonderful job and given them their time and space because they need to process this how they need to process it. We don't want to force it upon them, because they're all coping with it in a different way. So the one thing that I would say that has been a saving grace is the togetherness of the group. We've really pushed for that. You know, yeah, a massive thing has happened. It's affected a lot of people. But it rallied the group together, and you see it every day in training. They give us power as a staff. They've given us strength. They've given us hope. And hopefully everyone else can see that and feed off of that as well.”
On his message to the players before and after the Louisville game on Wednesday:
“You're getting inside the locker room here, but you know, to be honest with you, I wasn't sure how to approach it. When I first stepped into the locker room, there's a new voice in that moment. But the main focus to me was us. It wasn't about anybody else. It wasn't about anything else. It was about us. It was about us coming together. It was about us walking out of the tunnel together as one. It was about us showing strength in unity. It was about us. It wasn't about individuals, it was about each of us individually and how we can be successful to make us really successful collectively. It wasn't about anything other than that. That was the message.
“I've gotten a lot of text saying you know, ‘Congrats, I know it’s probably not the way you wanted to have your first head coaching role,’ but my response is, I wouldn't want to do with any other group under these circumstances because of who they are as people, how they work every single day, the professionals they are, the people they are. So it's really just about us and about how much I care about them in this moment, about how much the people that are coming to watch care about them, how courageous they are, them and everybody else in the league.
“But an opportunity to get back what they love to do. And one thing I said to them was I want to be entertained as a coach. I want to be entertained and I don't want to focus on the opponent, I want to worry about us. So when we walk out of that tunnel, make it about us, and I would like to think that it showed on the field that night.
“After the game was a bit emotional. I wasn't sure what type of response we were gonna get from the players because of everything that's happened, but I told them how much I love them and how unbelievably proud I was of them and how proud the club was of them, how proud they should be of each other. And using it as a foundation to start something new. And whatever happens in the next couple of games, whether it's three points, no points, whatever, the fact that they're out here playing is a win enough in itself for me and that's what we've been pushing every single day. I'm not pushing three points. I'm pushing the fact that they've stepped up and showing people what courage and bravery looks like.”
On the roles of coaches in improving the system:
“Things have been, I'm not gonna lie; it's been tough the last week or so. I’ll be honest with you, I still haven't processed it. My full time and attention, along with the staff and the club, has been to the players. I really haven't had time, nor do I know when I'll have time, to really process it. When I say process it, really wonder ‘How the heck did we get here? And why? Why did we get here?’ To answer your question, I think I've done a bit of reflecting, in many ways in terms of moving forward, what can be better suited for these players? And the one thing is letting them have their say, letting them feel that they, not telling them, but asking them. Asking them, ‘what do you guys need? What would make you guys most comfortable’? I think when things are put on people, whether it's within rules and regulations, and so on, if there's one thing I've learned, if you ask them, they're not as bought in. And if players have the right or have the ability to speak up now like they have, and I'm proud of all the players, I think it's important that we listen.
“We're not going through it, they are. Unfortunately, there's situations that have put them in this situation that they didn't want. And sometimes the only way to get out of it is by allowing them to have their say and collectively, how they've unified as a league, their power is, look they are the league. So I think making them comfortable is the most important thing. And hopefully, it's a learning lesson for a lot of people to say, ‘You know what, let's sit down and get this done.’ Because the only way the game is going to grow is if the players love to play it in a league that they love to play for. And I feel that is probably the biggest thing I can say is, when players love to be a part of something, they'll do anything for it. And right now there's a hesitation because there's the unknowns. So hopefully the stuff that players have brought up and hopefully, the communication that clubs have had with their respective teams. You know, we as coaches will always support our players in this regard. I will always support our players in this situation. I will protect the players in this situation. And I think that's probably the best way, let them have their say, and let's listen and see how we can apply.”
On if he and the team take the next game as a game day as usual:
“Probably going to take it as a game day as normal. The one thing I want to avoid, and not avoid, but be cognizant of and be open-eyed to, is the fact that I don't want to keep going backwards and have them rehash things that they might be moving forward from or dealing with on their own. So really, it's business as usual for us. We have a really professional group. … I was talking to [Director of Communications Megan O’Keefe] earlier, and I don't know how they're gonna respond on the road. And I'll be honest, we don't know how they're gonna respond Wednesday, or next Sunday, or a month from now and neither do they. I think that's the same for every team in the league. No one knows the response, because at some point, you have to assume the emotions of everything will come into play.
“The one thing I do know is our players are gonna be ready to play, and regardless of what happens, they're going to know when they walk off the field, we're not going to think anything less. That's the most important thing. They know that final whistle win, lose or draw, they've done enough for us. And look, we've been thrown into a pit here. And it's been tough to have to navigate out. I feel like our head is starting to peek out a little bit. I just don't know when that moment might come where the emotions take a toll. I don't think it'll be this weekend. I hope not. And if it does, we'll be there to support them. But we're going to go business as usual and not change anything. [The players] don't want that either.”
The Courage are set to kick off against the Houston Dash at 7 p.m. On Sunday, Oct. 10. The game will be streamed on Paramount+.