Heather Henson arrived in Nashville on Feb. 7, five days after being introduced as Belmont’s new women’s soccer head coach. On Wednesday, Feb. 9, Henson sat down with Belmont Vision sports editor Pierce Greenberg to discuss what’s next for the women’s soccer program.
Pierce Greenberg: Starting off, why did you apply to this job? What drew you towards Belmont?
Heather Henson: Belmont University, I’ve competed against them for years, even before ETSU was in the Atlantic Sun. Over those years competing against them, it seemed like every time I walked on campus something new was being constructed. To me, that’s an amazing thing because it goes into the long range vision of the university and the president. So, that has always intrigued me.
To be able to have a university and a president that has the long range vision to place buildings that are needed for the university to grow, as well as in a landlocked area. So, the opportunity to come to a place that has that vision—and it seems like it spans not just one segment of the university.
And then, Nashville is a great place. It’s a great place for a family, it’s a great place for college students, it’s a great for a family, and just a great place for life in general. Those are some of the biggest things that attracted me to it.
PG: Did you have any reservations based on recent events that have gone on here?
HH: Quite honestly, I think before I apply for any position, I want to make sure it’s the right place. Again, it’s looking at the city, looking at the university, not where they’re at now, but where they’re going to be. It’s a family decision for me and my family. Those are the things we took into consideration, because it is a move and it is an adjustment, not just for me and my family, but for the new program. It’s not here where there are reservations. Just, in general, I wanted to make sure it was a well thought out decision.
PG: This is a unique situation for a number of reasons. What challenges do you anticipate having?
HH: I don’t think challenges is the right word. I think there is some benefits coming from ETSU being in the same conference. I have less of a learning curve because I know the coaches, I know how the teams play, I know their styles so that’s a benefit for us. The current team has that experience playing against them and I have that experience coaching against them. That’s a benefit for us.
Every new coach has to get to know their team and every team has to get to know their coach. So, that exists in any new coaching hire.
PG: In a recent article, I interviewed a player about what she was looking for in a new coach and she really emphasized “moving on” from what has happened here recently. How do you envision helping the team do that?
HH: Getting to work, quite honestly. I arrived Monday morning and immediately went to a training session on the field. From that point on, I’ve had individual meetings Monday, all day Tuesday, and today. We lifted on Tuesday and we’ll train in just a little bit, as well.
Basically, my days have been spent being with the team, either in a training or weightlifting session or individual meetings. I think that is an important part of, again, building that player-coach relationship that has to exist. We all want to get to point when we are running through a brick wall, because that’s how you are going to have success.
PG: What have you learned from those discussions with the players?
HH: I have learned that they want to win. That was a very common theme. They want to be a close-knit team. Most successful athletic teams have this unified family sense and you can’t pull it apart. Even if you lose two games in a row or win 10 games in a row, it’s that same bond. That’s the kind of thing that’s coming through. They want to work and they are willing to work to do it.
PG: From your end, what did you tell them? What did you want to make sure that you got across?
HH: That I’m listening to them. We’re evaluating where we are at. I’ve played against them, but some of the players didn’t get much playing time. So, my opportunity in the spring is to watch and evaluate and start to train where they see their weaknesses, but also how to make their strengths stronger. But I’m listening to them, and I’m hearing what they are saying. And then we are going to take all of that, take the stuff from the coaches as a staff, then bring that together and say “Here’s where we are, now let’s get rolling with it.”
PG: From a soccer standpoint, how would you describe yourself as a coach and your style?
HH: I want to be a teacher of the game. I want the mass of our work done in training sessions. That’s where we are going to stop it, we’re going to correct it, we’re going to make those changes and do those things. I’m going to talk in games and make some points, but if I have to stop the team and move them like puzzle pieces throughout the whole game, we’re not going to have a lot of success.
PG: What are the next steps for you and the team?
HH: Well, I find a place to live on the personal level. (laughs) I looked at it and said “what needs to get done first?” And right now, it’s meeting with the team and beginning to watch them train because that’s why I’m here. I will find a place to live. That’s going to happen. To me, there’s the priority things that need to get done, and right now it’s being with the team, getting to know them, and them getting to know to me. In about two weeks, I can tell you what’s next. (laughs)