After playing at Kennedy as a junior, Nicholas was cut, he said, because the coach couldn’t fully hear him. Now, more than three decades later, Nicholas relishes the ability to hear his own players with the help of a high-powered hearing aid.
He can converse comfortably with his players at close range, using a high-pitched voice that is firm but muffled, as if he were talking while trying to hold his breath.
“They know when to communicate with me and when not to communicate with me,” Nicholas said of his players.
Eight years ago, Nicholas was terrified to be in this position — having a severe hearing disability and wanting to teach teenagers in Montgomery County how to play soccer. He was fresh off a stint with the U.S. Deaf Soccer men’s national team, for which he competed internationally for 20 years after a stellar soccer career at Gallaudet. His life was in limbo after his playing career faded. He had been feeling empty and restless for several months in 2005, when his wife finally urged Nicholas to think about a coaching career.
“Ever since then, I found my calling,” he said.
Born deaf, Nicholas is a capable speaker, a database engineer at L-3 National Security Solutions and a favorite at the high school in western Montgomery County, where on a recent Friday afternoon he struck up conversations with nearly everybody he came across on campus. But teaching teenagers how to play a sport is a different challenge — one purely driven by communication. It is not a business in which hotheads or the socially awkward thrive, let alone a coach who has difficulty hearing his own players’ voices from long distances.
“I was very, very nervous,” said Nicholas, who coached at Damascus for one season before taking over at Poolesville in 2007. “I was afraid that the kids wouldn’t understand me. And I was just nervous that the kids would not be able to understand where I came from and how I could bring that high level of playing that I had down to the high school level and how determined I was to make them good soccer players.”
To do that, Nicholas had to learn how to articulate years of accumulated knowledge to his players. He only would be able to talk to players face-to-face, but he would also be tireless in pushing his boundaries. That meant watching his players for signs of weakness or hitches and filing his thoughts to share later when he had them close. He also needed a “system to develop naturally” in relaying signals on the field, which was front and center Monday against Magruder.
Sometimes he had to rely on pure hustle. Once during the game, he ran up the sideline when the ball was at the far end of the field, trying to get the attention of his players, using all the might in his vocal cords to yell instructions.