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08/05/2021 12:00 AM

Lacroix Enjoys Teaching the T-Birds

North Branford High School health teacher Nicole Lacroix enjoyed her first season as an assistant coach with the T-Birds’ girls’ tennis team. Photo courtesy of Nicole Lacroix

When first-year North Branford girls’ tennis Head Coach Liz Caplan needed some help at practice one day, she reached out to her co-worker and friend Nicole Lacroix. What was originally a one-off practice turned into a season-long venture for Nicole, who recently completed her first season as an assistant coach with the Thunderbirds.

“There’s a common thread no matter what sport you’re coaching. I learned a tremendous amount from Coach Caplan about the skills of tennis,” Nicole says. “It made me enjoy playing tennis even more, and it was great way to connect with the athletes. It was a lot of learning for me.”

Nicole is a North Branford native who competed in volleyball, track and field, and tennis at the high school before graduating in 1992. Nicole says that playing sports for North Branford gave her some great insight for when she transitioned into a coaching role.

“I wasn’t a tremendous athlete. I just liked being athletic and being a part of a team. It’s always been a common theme for me. Having your feet on the court or on the field is a lot different than standing on the sidelines,” says Nicole, who still lives in North Branford. “The pressure, the teamwork, the leadership—you have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. It gives you a different lens when you’re trying to guide your players. It was helpful playing numerous sports.”

Nicole took on her first coaching job when she became an assistant volleyball coach for the Thunderbirds under then-head coach Debbie Stone in 2006. At the time, she was teaching at North Branford Intermediate School. In 2009, Nicole became a teacher at the high school and subsequently stepped into the head coach’s position of the volleyball team at the intermediate school. For the past two seasons, Nicole has coached cross country at the school.

Nicole has always liked staying active. She feels fortunate to be connected with people who gave her an opportunity to coach.

“I feel very lucky that the people I’m connected with sought me out and asked if I would take that role. I like being active, and it’s an amazing extension of teaching outside the classroom,” Nicole says. “It’s a different way to reach students. I’m just very lucky that people I’ve connected with have given me these opportunities.”

No matter what sport she’s coaching, Nicole likes to focus on personal growth with her athletes. She wants them to look at where they were at the beginning of the season and see how far they’ve progressed by the end of it. As an assistant coach with the tennis team, Nicole was inspired by how motivated the Thunderbirds were, along with their willingness to try new things on the court this spring.

“Personal growth is huge for me, making little goals for yourself and competing against yourself to see how far you’ve come by the end of the season,” says Nicole. “Sports is a great way to connect with others that you have something in common with. I learned that tennis is not a sport in North Branford that kids grew up playing. I was inspired by students that were trying something new for the first time. I was very moved.”

While the 2021 season marked Nicole’s first year as assistant coach, it was also the first year that Caplan served as the T-Birds’ head coach. Caplan says that Nicole’s background as a teacher and her ability to encourage every player proved crucial in North Branford’s progression throughout the campaign.

“Nicole’s background as a health teacher and coaching other sports has brought so much to the team. She is a power of positive thinking tour de force,” says Caplan. “Nicole is encouraging to each and every player. She incorporated a multitude of strategies for players to use on and off the court to stay focused and bring their best to practice and matches.”

Nicole was named North Branford’s Teacher of the Year during the 2011-’12 school year. As a health teacher, Nicole teaches things such as nutrition, fitness, decision making, and mental and emotional health. As a coach, Nicole is able to take some of the things that she teaches to her students and apply them on the court with her athletes.

“Your students are sitting in a desk and learning information, but how does that play out in the real world? I find sports lend that natural hand to see how they handle stress and different dynamics of new personalities,” Nicole says. “It lends itself to what I teach into the classroom.”

Nicole has spent her entire coaching career in North Branford. Nicole feels honored to represent her hometown and is hoping that what she teaches her students and athletes will stay with them long after they graduate.

“My husband also graduated from North Branford, so we bleed purple. Our friends and children are in the district, as well,” says Nicole says. “When our kids do leave North Branford, my hope is that they learned a lot from what I’ve given them in the classroom or on the field or court, so they can flourish when they move on and move out.”