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UNCERTAINTY & CHANGE ARE CONSTANTS


by Dr. Yolanda Bruce Brooks

UNCERTAINTY & CHANGE ARE CONSTANTS


The family life of a coach in professional sports infrequently takes center stage. Family matters are occasionally spotlighted when there is a death in the family, major illness or some other fleeting drama. For the most part, a coach’s family life is not newsworthy in the minds of the media. All the better for his family. One would think having such privacy provides opportunity for a ‘normal’ lifestyle. Perhaps. 

Once again, we are at the end of another football season (see previous article The End Of A Season). While the end of any sports season is filled with speculation fueled by prowling media, it is also a time of angst and anxiety for coaches as well as players. However, we don’t hear as much about the family members. In this article, selected coaches wives have bravely offered to disclose their experiences, thoughts, feelings, and more importantly what it takes to obtain resiliency while sustaining sanity in an unpredictable business with little or no job security. It is impressive how these wives - with very short notice - are able to strategically mobilize their families, with tactical level details and logistical accuracy without a network of support or assistance. Their ability to efficiently execute their family’s transition rivals that of a military force mobilizing for deployment. 

As you read their experiences, think about the emotional upheaval while attempting to create a measure of stability for children in a family foundation that is built with a revolving door of people. In football, as in most sports at the professional and collegiate levels, the team becomes an extension of the family. When the time comes to separate - and it WILL come, it is the emotional upheaval that is the least predictable and often the hardest to overcome.

How do parents put this lifestyle into perspective in order to parent their children with some semblance of stability, continuity and normalcy? Before addressing this question, read the following about the seasonal adjustments of a coach’s family.

“This time of year means uncertainty, fear and worry. Not only for me and my family but for our friends, especially the ones with younger children. It brings back the reality that this place is not our home, don't be too settled. This time of year continues to make my faith stronger by knowing the only person I can trust to get me through it is God.  I know that because of Him, my family and I will be ok!”

M. B., 2 children — ( St. Louis Rams (6 years), University of Kentucky (9 years), Tennessee Titans (4 years) Present ?)

Through her FAITH, M.B. has learned RESILIENCY and has been able to create SUSTAINABILITY for her children. However, she continues to struggle with the reality that she cannot become rooted in a foundation called “home” - at least not yet.

"I feel overwhelmed in every sense of the word. It's one thing to think we will need a new gym or a new grocery.  I'll have to pack up our belongings for the 3rd time in 4 years (we moved rentals in Florida because we are idiots), but it's another to think of starting over emotionally. I love our kind neighbors here and I've met wonderful mom friends. There's a good chance I will never see them again in my life. But they poured into me for a year and took a risk on this crazy coach’s wife. This life isn't easy. You have to be independent, strong and a little bit crazy. I hope that in three months I'm settled somewhere that will take our family in and we will be ok."

S.T., 3 children — (Texas A&M (3 years), Miami Dolphins, (4 years) University of Cincinnati, (1 Year)

S.T.’s situation brings to mind the quote: “People come into our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” While she feels overwhelmed, she has allowed herself to connect to and benefit from SUPPORT and FRIENDSHIP from friends and neighbors.  From her perspective, being a part of her extended family necessitates some measure of ACCEPTANCE and TOLERANCE of the “crazy” that comes along with the sports culture and her family’s lives in it. 

“The end of an NFL football season can be very stressful for families who are on teams with coaching staffs that get fired. There are always a lot of scenarios that you go through and a lot of behind the scenes work to make sure that you will have a place to land the next season. 

My Quote is: 'Have Bags- Will Travel’”

T.H., 3 children  — New York Jets, (2 years) Cleveland Browns (3 years) Dallas Cowboys (4 years) Atlanta Falcons 

T.H. appears to have a MINDSET that could rival any flight attendant or road warrior. She understands the necessity to ANTICIPATE what is needed for the “NEXT STOP”  before leaving the current one. This is analogous to taking a trip with several extended LAYOVERS. Imagine taking this trip with several kids (of varied ages, developmental stages, medical, educational and social needs) in tow and perhaps making the trip alone. 

“Jerry and I have just completed his 25th year in the NFL. I say "we" because it has to be a joint effort. 

The happiest coaches' wives I've meet have been resilient, flexible, independent, strong and positive women. A few of the many blessings in this business are: the people you get to meet, amazing women and their husbands; opportunities to become acquainted with people, areas and cultures you would never have known; the feeling of being a contributor to something larger than yourself; learning that, by darn, you can accomplish more on your own than you ever thought possible. 

Many years ago, I read a book which equated moving with reading a book that was so good you hated to finish, but then realizing that there was no reason not to expect the next book would be just as good, if not better. For the most part, that has been my experience. Not to sound like Pollyanna, but it hasn't always been a bed of roses. It always hurts when your husband gets fired. Most of us live away from family, so we learn to be each other's family. How many different moving stickers can you find on one piece of furniture? My personal favorite is the misconception most people have of our lives - all excitement and travel! Through the years, I've found myself replying to the ticket taker at each ballgame when they say 'Enjoy the game', that 'I will if we win!'”

C.S., 2 children —San Diego Chargers(5 yrs), Detroit Lions (4 yrs), Phoenix Cardinals (3 yrs), Miami Dolphins (1 yr), San Francisco 49’ers (6 yrs) and Jacksonville Jaguars (5 yrs).  

C.S. said it best…The happiest coaches’ wives have been RESILIENT, FLEXIBLE, INDEPENDENT, STRONG AND POSITIVE…” She has also shared an important perspective - the fact that she a contributor to something larger than herself. Another important observation she shared is the MISCONCEPTION many people have about the lifestyle of the family members of coaches. This misconception applies to players’ families as well. Can you imagine what the home atmosphere will be like after a game if the team loses? What about the loss of a playoff or championship game? Can you imagine what the children go through? Children of coaches and players are not immune to the criticisms at their schools - which may have previously been a welcoming environment - can quickly become hostile and difficult for them.

"I experience every emotion this time of year. The only absolute in football is that anything can happen. Even if you sign a multi-year contract, head coaches can leave for a better job, entire staffs can be fired. Everything is going through your mind....will he get a promotion? Demotion? Better team? College job? NFL job? Where will we land? Will our kids be okay? Should we buy? Should we rent? What team are we cheering for now? 

People don't believe it when you first move somewhere and you tell them you might be here for several years or you might have to move after one season. And even though I prepare myself that moving shortly is a possibility, I am always shocked and affected by the news of a coaching change.

This isn't my first rodeo and I have this moving thing down pat, but it is the kids that I worry about (especially teenagers). Will they find good friends? Are there good schools? Is there a church with a good youth group? Will they have the same opportunities in a new place? How will they adjust?

But I try not to worry because my kids are resilient and have learned amazing coping skills. They know how to handle difficult situations maturely. They have learned so much about different cities and towns, customs and culture. Our children love new experiences and have learned to embrace change. Our family is closer because of it. 

I am not saying it has been easy, no way! But we have chosen to embrace the football life. That means finding the positive with every new team and city. Choosing to be open to where God has placed us, helps me get excited about the opportunity ahead."

H.G., 4 children  Tampa Bay Bucs (2 years), Cincinnati Bengals (4 years), Arizona Cardinals (2 years), Cincinnati Bengals (3 years), UVA- Charlottesville (3 years), Dallas Cowboys (6 years), Tampa Bay Bucs (1 year), Oregon State Univ (1 year), Florida Gators (1 year), Richmond Spiders (1 year), Lafayette College- Easton, PA

H.G.’s perspective is not dissimilar to C.S.’s.  She expressed concerns about the impact the transitions have on her children - especially in terms of their MATURATION. Looking at some of the benefits, she noted they learned about the CUSTOMS and CULTURE of the different cities and towns within which they have lived. In 24 years she has made 11 moves. 

For the spectators of this industry, there are two seasons - when the sport is played and when it’s not. For the coach and the player, it’s when the sport is played and preparing for the sport to be played. There is no “off” season. Professional and collegiate sports involve year round commitment and the workload continues with it. There may be 4-8 weeks off but for many this period involves a measure of work (scouting, recruiting, working out, etc.)

For those of you who are parents, you understand parenting is a 24/7, 365 days a year job. Coaching is very similar.

Job security is as big an issue in coaching as it is in any other profession. It takes a woman with a special disposition, independent mindedness and toughness to handle this business and embrace its lifestyle. When she says “I do” this means she will embrace not only his family of origin, but also his other family (called team) and all that comes with it. The latter can change dramatically whether it involves moving to another team or making roster and personnel changes.

Important family events such as birthdays, anniversaries even childbirth may be disrupted, usurped or at the last minute missed because of the game. Regardless of the best laid plans, last minute adjustments may be required, which means taking second place to the team.

Now that you have the ‘words of the wives’, Part II will provide insight into special circumstances that compound transitioning such as a catastrophic illness. Part III will focus on the coaches perspectives and Part IV will discuss ways to manage and cope with this lifestyle.  


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