Coaches Spotlight: Coach Nathalia Nasser

Meet Coach Nathalia Nasser

Coaches Spotlight: Coach Nathalia Nasser

Coach Nathalia Nasser By Thomas Gerbasi

Nathalia Nasser doesn’t have the loudest voice on the pitch, but when she speaks to her students in the BetterPlayer program at Battery Park on Thursday evenings, they stop and listen.

And there are a lot of students who want to train with her, a source of pride for the Brazil native.

“That's the best feeling, for sure,” said Nasser, whose travels brought her to the United States in 2011 to play college soccer, with her last stop being the Division I program at Liberty University in Virginia.

“That was a big team, and it was a very interesting experience,” she said. “Women's soccer here in the U.S. is very much respected and there’s a lot of investment in it, so it was very, very nice.”

Yet while soccer aka futebol, is religion in Brazil, that’s not really the case in the States, something Nasser got a crash course in once she arrived.

“I feel like it's growing right now, so the culture of soccer, people are watching more soccer, girls and boys are growing up playing soccer, but I definitely had a culture shock, especially because in Brazil we grow up playing just because we love it. We cannot see a ball on the streets, and we already set up a little goal and we play for fun. So we have a more fun way of playing. We call it ‘the beautiful game,’ right? So it's all about making it fun, making it beautiful, and here, the sport's a little bit more rational. It’s more about making the passes and scoring. So I try to bring that Brazilian feeling to my style of coaching. I definitely want to make people have fun and feel like they're doing something beautiful, more like art than just a sport where you want to get to score.”

Well, there you go. Now you know why Nasser has five sessions around NYC during the summer for BetterPlayer, and why the pitch is packed when she’s teaching players at all levels, from beginner and intermediate to advanced. Because who doesn’t want to learn the beauty of the beautiful game, whether it’s the first time you’ve kicked a ball or played since you were out of diapers? And whatever level someone is on, she will get them where they want to go.

“Beginner level one is mostly about getting to love the sport because if you're in love with it, then it's going to be easier to learn,” she said. “You're actually going to come to class excited and you're going to want to develop the skills. Then level two, we can already start working on some fancy stuff, but still just getting to know the sport. And then advanced, you already know soccer, so we can actually get more into skills and getting to the point that you want to get to and maybe compete in the bigger leagues or something like that. Or you are just interested in competitions and stuff like that. So that's the big difference.”

It’s also a big difference from other soccer programs in that you don’t have to have a game on the weekend to get something positive out of BetterPlayer. Maybe it’s just something to do on a Thursday night, a way to stay in shape, or an opportunity to meet people with similar interests.

And Nasser has seen it all.

“Definitely, especially the new to soccer level one and level two, they were just wanting to learn a new sport,” she said. “I had a girl that had a hand injury, so she had to stop playing football, so she decided to play soccer because she could use her legs. So she was very excited, and she just loved sports in general. I have some older people who want to keep their body going, and other people who their parents or their grandparents signed them up and they ended up falling in love with the sport. There are lots of interesting stories.”

The best part is, everybody has one. Now it’s up to Nasser to bring those stories and personalities out on the pitch, not as a player, but as a coach. It’s a transition she’s embraced. “I've been falling in love with coaching,” she said. “I'm completely addicted to playing soccer, and sometimes I do get to play with my students, which is really fun. So I think I've been liking it more than I expected and I'm really excited. I really love the sport, so I didn't realize that even if it's playing or coaching, it's still really fun. And to see other people fall in love with it, I love when their eyes are shining, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I scored the goal.’ So it's really fulfilling.”

And something she wants to take the intimidation factor away from for the newcomers to the game.

“Well, for one, they (new players) are going to be the ones that are going to evolve faster.

It's just like when you're losing weight; in the beginning, you lose a lot of weight compared to other people. So when you're first learning a sport, it's going to be very exciting because you're going to learn everything quicker than people that have already been there for a while. I think that's the most exciting part, to get to know the sport, to see what your body can do, to see yourself doing stuff that you see on TV, and it's really just a fun, free sport, very creative. If you're a creative person, you're probably going to have a lot of space to work with that.”

From there, it’s game on, with Coach Nathalia leading the way.

“Any progress is progress,” she said. “My ‘new to soccer’ class this season, they were very excited. They went from not knowing the rules to playing a full game and they were smiling the whole time. It doesn't get any better than that. I understand the need to win and how nice it is to win big competitions and everything, but if you're not having fun, it really doesn't really have a point.”