Articles


Cheers and Tears


by Dr. Yolanda Bruce Brooks

Cheers and Tears

Most of us create dreams which reflect our goals, ideals and, to some extent, our fantasies. They are our hopes that motivate us to move forward and work hard to make them come true. In the beginning, we are not burdened by the realities which tell us the truth. We enjoy the feeling of having and doing whatever we want because we could see it in our mind’s eye. That vision doesn’t reflect the sacrifices, the hard work or even the pain from the failures, disappointments or the no’s we must accept. It was easy to see it, but we didn’t imagine what it would take to achieve it. If we did, it wouldn’t be a dream.

Or would it?

One has to truly understand the mindset of a coach to understand the disciplined drive to coach while dealing with the emotional chaos that comes with the job. While a number of coaches are former players, not all players become good coaches. It’s one thing to play the game, but it requires a deeper and broader understanding of the game to translate it, make decisions about it and teach it. If players cannot understand what they’re being taught, a great coach can become an instant failure. 

The other aspect of a coach’s mindset is personal.  Most coaches have a supportive partner which is, in most instances, a spouse. The role of the spouse is to support the coach and take care of and sustain the family - the coach’s foundation. Both the spouses and the coaches have agreed that if the personal life isn’t stable, the coach may struggle in his job. 

For the most part, a coach’s family life is not newsworthy. All the better for the family. Most are able to live a semi-private lifestyle outside of the glare of the media spotlight. One would think having such privacy provides opportunity for a ‘normal’ lifestyle.  What’s considered normal in a coach’s lifestyle is exceptional and extraordinary to most of us.  

In this article, a small sample of coaches have taken the time to share a few insights about their lifestyles, their beliefs and their families’ sacrifices in order for them to have their careers. Most coaches are exceptionally protective and private about their personal lives. They tend to avoid the spotlight beyond what’s required in their jobs. Instead, they prefer to spend time with family privately indulging in all things family. For most, family is the foundation of stability and spending time with family is the sanctuary of unconditional positive regard and support. They can leave the field after a disappointing loss, after being hurled angry barbs from frustrated fans yet go home to a loving, understanding family that consoles and offers reassurance.

An entire family can be thrown into disarray from the loss of a game, a losing season or the mandates of a twenty something franchise player.  It doesn’t take much these days for a coach’s job to be on the line. However, the level of stress that comes with this job takes a formidable toll on a coach’s health. This past season at least four out of the 32 head coaches missed games DURING the season due to health reasons. Some were hospitalized. One head coach had to resign due to health issues. As of January 3, 2017, there were six head coach position vacancies. All have since been filled. 

The next time an NFL head coach is criticized for not doing a good job, think about that coach’s job requirements. It should include ‘’exceptional stress management skills’’ in its description.  There are few who would deny professional sports is a tough business but it is one that comes with a high personal price. One must consider the costs and the benefits as no salary can replace the loss of one’s health. Beyond the family sacrifices (see previous article (Uncertainty is Constant) and coaching players (a coach’s favorite thing to do), there is scouting, play design/calling,  and, of course, deciding on and managing the schedules (practice, travel).  Then there are decisions regarding food/nutrition, strength/conditioning, medical/treatment/injury/rehab, travel, weather, obligatory appearances including radio, television, social media, special community and sponsorship events, reports (team, league, etc.) and meetings (coaches, players, owners, sponsors) and addressing any player related concerns. The assistant coaches and other staff provide support in a number of these areas, however the Head Coach is ultimately responsible and accountable. Eventually, the coach can become worn down from the grind of it. 

The Assistant Coaches have as many stressors as the Head Coach. However, they are often shielded from the additional stress that comes from the scrutiny of the public eye. That doesn’t remove the impact the coaching lifestyle has on them or their families.  On average, coaches work from 80-100+ hours/week not including game day (add about 6 hours). During the season - there is no such thing as a day off. At one time, it was fairly routine for coaches to sleep at the office. These days, the majority of coaches try not to sleep at the office. There are, of course, exceptions especially during critical stretches or important games. 

Despite the myriad of challenges, coaches find time to think about both sides of their job situations. On the challenging side, this coach shared that for him, "The most challenging part of the job is getting everyone to function at a high level and on the same page as well as develop skill sets that young guys don’t have.   On the other hand, the most gratifying is seeing young players improve and seeing the team have success based on your efforts.”  

Finding ways to balance the job demands with the family comes with a precariousness similar to an ominous storm looming in a distant horizon. In many instances, the coach has resigned himself to accept there may be no balance in certain instances. It is what it is.  The biggest sacrifices beyond the transitioning period (approximately 6 months) from changing jobs can include time demands the job requires, the lack of stability desired and loss of proximally accessible family support due to relocations to the new team/city. At times, the family may be separated for several months to allow the kids to finish the school year. Wives often give up promising careers to support their coaching husbands. It’s a voluntary choice, but one that most coaches do not take for granted. They need and rely on their supportive wives.

One of the benefits of being an NFL coach is that despite the long hours, he is home most of the week. The NFL affords a coach more opportunity to be a family man than coaching at the college level.  As one coach stated, “I make sure that when I am home the family gets my undivided attention and I have energy and excitement to do activities.”   

“There is more down time in the offseason, less travel, and you don’t have to deal with recruiting day and evening, 7 days/week, 365 days/year.  When the opportunity to spend time with the family presents itself (like Fridays and Saturdays during the season or the more manageable schedule in the off-season), you have to take advantage and make the most of it” says this veteran coach. However, this coach comes right to the point.  When asked how he balances job demands with the family he replied,  “You don’t.  You do the best you can but it never balances out.” However, “having more balance of family time in season” he later acknowledged, is the one thing he would like to see change.

In expressing his ideal yet acknowledging his reality, this coach succinctly reflects the juxtaposition between his personal and professional roles in this statement:

“I would like to have an increased role on our team, but yet still be able to spend more time with our family. Luckily, I have an independent wife and kids that are able to thrive in their lives with my limited involvement on a daily basis for 6 months a year.”

It has been said, that the hardest part of the game is being a coach’s wife. The following quote reflects one coach’s sentiment about the impact his coaching career has had on his family.  A few coaches were asked to react and respond to this quote.

“You can go chase a dream, but then sometimes you look back and there’s a trail of tears behind you. And the tears are usually your wife and your kids,” Miami Florida Head Coach -- Mark Richt 

Here are their individual responses:

(1)“Coaches are competitors and are always chasing the next job, a promotion or new title, a move up the career ladder or worse yet, get caught in a bad cycle where they are fired or part of a staff that has been fired. The people that are affected most by the all the moves and upheaval are our families. Coaches jump right into their next job, have built in friends on staff, and become consumed with all their new responsibilities of the job, but our families are the ones left behind to move, start over again, and try to build a “normal” life. The stress that creates is unbelievable and unfair to our wives and kids.”

(2)“I would say it is a little dramatic. It’s an accurate quote if you and your family get your self-worth out of wins and loses. Unfortunately, too many in football get their self-worth from the results of the game. Coaching is so much more than wins and loses. It’s about relationships and the development of players and fellow coaches. Football is a great game that has galvanized my family and has provided some of the greatest memories in my life. It has brought so many great families into our lives which has resulted in some close friendships.”

(3)“True”

(4)“I don’t worry too much about this because it’s up to me as an individual not to let this happen.  All progressive moves (which luckily most of mine have been) have come after careful consideration and conversation with my wife about what is best for our family.  You have to continually remind yourself to prioritize faith, family and football, in that order.  Again, I have passed on really good opportunities because it wasn't what was best for my family.  As long as I can keep things in perspective, then I don't have to worry about a trail of tears."

(5)“I don’t think this applies to our family.  I can only think of one time this was an issue when we lived in a city with family and had to leave them behind.  All of our moves were good, in the long run, for our family.” 

In closing, I believe it's fair to say sports is a high energy, emotionally charged industry. It’s a rapidly moving, ever evolving paradox allowing us to soar from exhilaration and fall into valleys of despair in seconds. We can become excitedly exhausted from merely watching a game, angry at players for losing a game and decide which players and coaches are best for a team. We develop an intimate bond with complete strangers - knowing more about them than some members of our own family. There are few things we allow to consume us and influence our lives more that our favorite game during the season. Some of us become so enmeshed with our teams that we have to remind ourselves we are spectators. We watch the game, we don’t play it. We vicariously put ourselves in the role of player, scout or general manager. We have even created fantasy games based on the real games. None of which we play, control or even influence other than cheering or complaining loudly. It DOES make a difference. 

However, it is the role of coach that we confidently convey our expertise by self-proclaimed authority. We analyze plays and dissect its execution. Yet the reality is clearly evident. None of us know the plan, the play or even the purpose BEFORE it is played - not even the players. We don’t know more than what we see or hear. We focus on the game, the players and perhaps the entertainment. However, truth be told, the responsibility, the burden, the calls, the decisions AND most of all - the end result belong to the coach. Period.

(The information included in this article are strictly the opinions of the writer unless otherwise indicated)


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