Monday, February 22, 2010

Coaching Confidential: Balancing a Family with Sports

On T.V or in the newspaper, coaching looks so glamorous. Football and basketball does the best job of displaying these sharp dressed men leading their teams on the sidelines. A majority of time, they always look in control ready to handle the situation. These guys on T.V get paid millions of dollars, have a ton of power, and never walk into a place unknown. It looks like the good life; easy street. Underneath it all, I think you would find something to the contrary.

A hint to this theory came to light in the fall with Florida’s Head Football Coach Urban Meyer. Here is a guy that looked like he had it all after leading the Gator’s to National Championships in 2006 and 2008. Inside though, he was being torn apart. When he announced in December that he was taking a leave of absence from coaching, it was reported that his daughter responded by saying,” I finally got my Dad back!” Ouch!

This is just the most recognizable example. Everyday, thousands of high school coaches go to work leaving their families behind. They are usually forgotten about because their faces are not on T.V. But these guys put in the same amount of hours, giving up the same stuff, and exerting the same energy to no fanfare, cameras, or bright lights.

Their sacrifices are not reported, like Coach Meyer’s, but still very real. What Coach Meyer’s daughter said about her father probably resonates with every coach at every level. People cannot be two places at once, no matter how hard they try. Being pulled in two directions is a tough and takes a toll on relationships. There is no other way around it.

Being a high school football and baseball coach, I understand the mixed emotions coaches struggle with internally. With a couple babies at home; it was a little easier to leave. With a lot of naps and limited mobility, kids were low maintenance. During that time, my wife at least got some time to herself. Now with three mobile children at home, it is a lot harder to leave. With every practice or game at school, leaves a missed moment at home.

I think baseball coaches have it worse compared to the other sports. Football, on the high school level, has only a nine week regular season. Obviously, there is preseason, daily practices, and off-season work, but nothing like baseball. Basketball is a little worse with 20-25 games, but what really goes on in the winter anyways. No baseball takes the prime dates away from people in the spring and summer. With at least 40-50 games to set-up and tear down, the time commitment is unbelievable.

How can coaches manage to pull this off without seeming like a deadbeat husband and father? Over the years, I have made many mistakes on this front. I have given far too much time to other people’s children beside my own. Recently, I have gotten a lot better with managing time. This are some key changes I made to help me keep a personal and professional balance.

- Morning Workouts

What does your family have going on at 6AM? I don’t know about you, but my family is fast asleep. You want to stop feeling guilty about practice, start having it in the morning. These are a great way to have the afternoon free to pick up the kids. Obviously, this won’t work during the regular season. But in the off-season, it is a nice alternative to coming in during the prime evening hours.

Moreover, kids learn the value of waking up. Having to get started early, they must learn to prioritize things like homework, part-time jobs, and friends. Players must be organized, so they are not late for the workout. Furthermore, by getting their workout done before school it energizes them as they walk into first period.

-  When It’s Over; It’s Over

A major problem for me is having practices that last forever. Because of the teams I coached there was always just,” One more…” We had to do everything extra from hitting to baserunning to defense. After that, then it was pitching; an entire practice itself. By the time I got home, dinner was put away and the kids had their pajama’s on. Something had to change.

The first thing I started to do was stick to the schedule. If a certain drill was scheduled for five minutes, that’s how long it lasted. There were no exceptions. At first, it was a little weird but it really helped the tempo of practice. The entire team’s focused sharpened as well. I think, just by taking this little step, our development improved because we stopped drilling everything to death.

Also, I moved from predominately individual drills to a more team centered practice. Groups of outfielder and infielders were mixed up, often practicing sequenced events with multiple throws. In the past, our teams usually split up between outfielders/infielders. It was easier, but didn’t make us any better. By changing the groups, the kids got to practice a lot more situations that required several positions making plays.

At the end of practice, our team use to meet to gain a sense of closure for the game. Sometimes, these meetings would take a while as I would drone on about the practice and upcoming games. No one was getting anything out of these “talks”. It dawned on me when I heard a quote from Bobby Knight, the Hall of Fame college basketball coach, who said,” The Gettysburg address lasted three minutes; I have nothing to say more important than that!” That quote helped me put a lot of things in perspective.

- Being Honest about Time

I don’t know about you, but I always struggled with getting home when I told my wife. If practiced lasted until six; I would often be home at 7:30. I found myself flying through intersections to try and beat the clock. It just never worked.

My wife would get frustrated because I was always late. Evaluating the situation, it occurred with me that I wasn’t being honest with her. If I told her, “Home at six” but my practice scheduled ended at six it was going to be tough to make it. I knew it sounded better than,” Home at seven” even though I knew I couldn’t make the six deadline.

After several years, this process drove my wife crazy. So I decided to be more honest. If we needed time at practice; I told her. That way, she could plan for it. The only rule was if I told her a time; I had to stick with it. It was only fair. The method alleviated a lot of the tension my tardiness caused. Plus, the guilt I felt about being late was lifted as well.

- Let’s Sleep on It

When I first started coaching, problems always had to be decided NOW! There was no tomorrow. Arguments, punishments, and disagreements were all to be solved and administrated immediately. Looking back, I was really stupid. Not only did this arrangement cause me to react emotionally but also didn’t allow me to attack things intelligently.

Many times, I wish I could go back and change the way I handled certain things. That seems to be a pretty common thing in coaching. These rash decisions, not only impacted the team, but my family at home. Countless nights I would spend on the phone talking with parents explaining a stupid situation that could have been avoided. Though, after awhile, I began to wise up.

Taking time “sleep on it” allowed me to think things through. It took all the emotion out of the response. Also, it stopped the “Coach screamed at me” nonsense that the players went home telling their parents. Furthermore, it also allowed me to give them a sense of future consequences for their actions. The phone calls stopped and night time was a little more peaceful.

- Leave it at the Field

When I first got into the profession, like every other coach, I lived it 24 hours a day. I thought it, dreamed it, and talked it all day long. Sometimes, after practice, my assistant coaches would call me at home to talk about it so more. It was never ending. My family got sick of it. Personally, I think my son almost didn’t want to play.

I had to find a way of letting go of baseball when I left the park. It was hard, especially after a close loss. No one at home cared either way. Our three children needed to be fed, changed, and put to bed no matter what the score. It was definitely a reality check; big time.

The best way to forget things, I have found, is to jump into whatever is going on at home. Participating in games, helping to cook dinner, or refereeing arguments are all things that are in my “world” at home. I am sure that is true for everyone. Most times, my kids do not even ask who won the game. That really puts things into perspective. In about ten minutes, the game is fuzzy, while life buzzes around me. The next game is only 24 hours away, let’s keep it there…..

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