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Norman hopes to support players, move program forward

| Friday, September 6, 2019

Though it’s only his second season at the helm of the program, Nate Norman has settled into his role as head coach of the Notre Dame women’s soccer team with a quiet poise.

Norman, a former Fighting Irish student athlete himself, is the latest through what seems to be a revolving door at the position, replacing Theresa Romagnolo (2014-2017) after she took the place of two-time National Champion head coach Randy Waldrum (1999-2013). But for Norman, it’s more than a job — and it’s about more than just winning games.

“I don’t think Notre Dame is a place that people just come to do a job. I think everyone almost has a little bit of sense of a higher calling,” Norman said. “Obviously [we] want to win games — but we also want to make sure we develop them as people, care about them when they do make mistakes, help them out of those valleys and get them back up because that’s only going make them stronger.”

In many ways, Norman hopes the experience of his current players echoes the one he himself had in South Bend.

“When I made mistakes, I wasn’t cast aside. Someone helped me through those times — they held me accountable, but also helped me grow to become stronger,” he added.

Norman emphasized that another unique part of Notre Dame is that such support comes from all sides, not just from a single coach or position.

“The support staff — that we get such support not only from our coaching staff, but from the athletic trainers, nutritionists, sports psychologists, the administration,” he said. “I think everyone’s just absolutely amazing.”

This year, Norman hopes to use that support to continue to take the program in the right direction — something he’s managed to do so far in the team’s 4-0 start. But Norman needs to remain cautiously optimistic; after his squad started 4-1 in his inaugural year, they fell on a four-game skid and found themselves unable to win back-to-back games for the remainder of the fall, ending 8-10 for the first losing season in the program’s history.

Still, Norman insists on letting dead dogs lie, using last year’s struggles as a learning experience as opposed to a source of negativity.

“I think the biggest things that I learned [from last season] have to do with the way we manage our team, not only individually, but in how hard we can really push,” he said. “I think also, what are the most practical ways we can play to get results? I don’t know if we always put our teams in the very best situations last year as a coaching staff to win certain games. We’re trying to be more practical about how we go in and do that, which I think is going to be important as we go through this season.”

Another critical part of Norman’s success in 2019 will be replacing an extremely productive senior class, having lost his two leading scorers in Karin Muya and Jen Westendorf, as well as graduating four starters.

“The goal is always, every year, to have a productive senior class, and last year wasn’t any different than any other,” Norman said. “I think for us, we hope to continue to develop the players within our program and make sure they become the best versions of themselves, and obviously bring in recruiting classes that continue to strengthen our program.”

For Norman, an important part of attracting strong talent is creating the right culture — something he hopes to continue to do this season.

“We want a group that is very resilient: one that can handle adverse situations and knows how to recover,” he said. “Whether it’s actually inside of a game — if we give up a goal, we want to make sure that we’re able to roll up our sleeves and rally and stay focused. If we have a tough loss, we want to hopefully grow stronger from that.

“Our goals are really simple. Every single game, we believe we have enough talent to win and we’re trying to take it one game at a time to come out of each game with a win. We continue to push our players, trying to help them understand how great they can be and help them reach their ceiling.”

But for Norman — whether it be on the playing field or off — success always comes back to one thing.

“My relationship with God hopefully is guiding my decisions and I’m trying to follow and serve him,” Norman said. “That’s a big piece of my life and that’s guided me through my life.”

Norman will have the chance to take his undefeated squad on the road for just the second time this season Friday, when Notre Dame visits Michigan in Ann Arbor. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. The match will mark the first of three straight away games for the Irish.

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