Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Coaches Need Balance Before Burning Out

Winning is always fun. But finding balance on that journey to victory is
something that coaches, myself included, need to do a better job of. 
The news in the past week that two NFL coaches, John Fox of the Denver Broncos and Gary Kubiak of the Houston Texans, suffered health-related incidents that likely occurred as a result of overwork and has forced them from the sideline surely strikes home for coaches at all levels of sports.

Long gone are the days where professional athletes spent their offseason vacationing, eating unhealthy and avoiding anything resembling a gym or playing field. Even amateur athletes at the youth and prep level rarely play more than two sports once they get to high school. There's simply too much pressure for them to keep up with their peers by lifting weights, visiting personal instructors and trainers and attending showcase events during the "offseason". 

Starting at the lowest of levels, for instance in Little League baseball, kids are dragged all over their state and region playing upwards of 100 games a year, then are signed up for indoor hitting and pitching lessons and clinics when it gets too cold to play outside. Once they're old enough to lift weights, they hop under the squat rack or onto the bench press, otherwise know they will fall behind kids they're competing with for playing time, for that all-conference selection, and eventually for that athletic scholarship. 

And the pressure of keeping up isn't just an athlete issue, it's also a major coaching issue. Coaches at the youth and high school levels no longer show up on the first day of tryouts or practice interested to see what they'll have that season. More than likely, they've already got a pretty good idea who will be their middle linebacker, back-up point guard, or three-hole hitter in the lineup thanks to an "offseason" spent working with their kids in something that no longer can be referred to as a hobby, but in a lot of cases as a second full-time job. 

I once had a prominent prep football coach in my area tell me that he felt he couldn't take two weeks off after the season ended, because his program would have already fallen behind their opponents. Coaching now more than ever is a year-round commitment, and I see examples of its affect on coaches every year while coaching at the high school level. Just look at your local high school, and tell me how long the football or basketball head coach has been there. Likely not 20 or 25 years, like in past generations. Coaching tenures are more likely to end after five years now than 25 years. 

What happened with Fox and Kubiak this week, coaches at every level are susceptible to. For coaches at all levels, there is the pressure of their ownership, their administration, their community or from parents of their players to win games, and to do so while getting their players enough playing time to keep everyone happy. And that doesn't include the added pressure for the highly-paid professional and (some) collegiate coaches to live up to their contracts. 

As a result, coaches are constantly eating fast food on the go, not getting enough sleep, falling out of their workout routines, putting relationships with family on the back burner, in a nutshell letting their physical and mental health go to heck. 

There's a balance that coaches nowadays need to find. I know the incidents with Fox and Kubiak this week have opened my eyes. After watching Kubiak collapse on the field on Sunday night, I told myself, 'I don't want that to be me someday'. 

In reflecting on my time coaching these past couple of years, I didn't smile enough and enjoy myself, my players and my coaches because I was too concerned with developing the players and winning games; spent too much of my free time away from the field on administrative tasks related to my team; stayed up too late at nights preparing for or reflecting on games; skipped too many workouts because I was too tired to go to the gym on my way home after games or practices; didn't plan meals accordingly so I wouldn't have to swing by Burger King on the way home; and probably could have found more balance between my coaching and my family and social schedule. 

I'll always have the drive to succeed on the field, to develop players, to win games. But now I'm going to seek a way to do that while also living a healthier lifestyle. All you coaches out there who are in similar shoes should follow suit.