Thursday, September 01, 2022

The Inner Life of a Coach


MY INNER LIFE DURING FOOTBALL SEASON
written mostly as a head coach in 2005

This will be my 31st year as a football coach. I have been an assistant, coordinator, head coach, and now I serve as a type of 'consultant', but the inner turmoil is the same. In 2005, I kept a journal of a typical week- and the following is a distillation of those notes:

The first time I published it- the response I get each time I post it shows that it resonates with coaches. One coach wrote me and said "I had my wife read this in hopes that she understands the madness a little more."

Once you start a season, there will be many more consecutive weeks of planning, practice, evaluations, adjustments, and competition.

I get real quiet when I am away from the team during these times... but inside, my brain is in overdrive.

If you think about it, please pray for all football coaches everywhere... the craziness NEVER stops.

A Journal.... I wanted this AM to record what seems to be the annual recurring haunting of my mind during football season.

I think about football almost every day…year round. It’s hard not to, my life is shaped like a football. I developed an early passion for it, I have a lifetime of memories, both good and bad within my football life.

I have been coaching since 1991 and the inner experience has been almost identical each year. I spend an enormous amount of inner energy rehearsing the game in my mind. I rehearse plays, formations, motions, scenarios, injuries, per game talks, post game talks, play parent conversations, pray, anxious thoughts.

My wife points out every season how quiet I am. Inside, though, it is a screaming madness. I love my family and friends, but during the rigors of a week-to-week football schedule, they seem to me like I am underwater and they are on the surface calling out to me.

I wish for my brain to turn off sometimes. I find that flipping channels on TV gives me some relief. Eating gives me relief too, but it is not good for my weight or health.

About 2 weeks into the season, I get flickers in my eyelids. It is like the film I watch burns a shadow image on my eyelids. I close my eyes and still see the faint outlines of plays, wide angle, in motion.

My week starts on a Friday night- it is after the game and I am about to watch the film of the event that I have worked for all week. After a win, it is the most satisfying feeling in all the world. When we lose, I am anxious to see all the breakdowns.

I am so keyed up on a Friday night that I will usually not get to sleep before 2 AM. I lay in bed and the rehearsal goes on and on. I see it over and over. I hear it. And I start thinking about adjustments for the next game. What about our depth? Who will center if "Dan"- gets hurt? "Joe" looked sad after the game. I hate that "Ken" is hurt.

Saturday morning I am up early, I am anxious to read about our game and all the other games. I complete the HUDL exchange with the next week’s team. College football only fuels my mind. I constantly look at what the innovators are doing. I like that blocking scheme for power.

There are other things to be done, Grass cutting, kid’s activities, social appointments, girls soccer, occasional youth football game I need to attend… Saturday night, I am in meltdown. I yearn for my bed with an enormous longing. I usually crash hard, unless the game that night is really good.

Sunday morning, I actually think about the Lord… Church today, and I am excited, Worship is a release. I do catch myself thinking football plays during lulls in the service, but I am usually caught up in the reality of my sin and the grandeur of God. I thank Him over and over.

I love teaching Sunday School during football season, it forces me to keep in the Word and prayer. It is an accountability measure. I love the fellowship. When we win, I get a lot of fun conversations. When we lose, I get some encouragement- but I am also surprised how some people run from me. Maybe it is awkward for them?… not sure.

Sunday afternoon, my freest day! A nap is welcomed! I feel human again. My family is not separated by water! I eat and rest. Football is on, but the pro game does not interest my imagination- I am a passive fan. 

Sunday night, let me forget football…but if it is a big game, forget it. The bigger the game, the faster the haunting begins. I just hope for sleep.

Monday morning- swamped with anxiousness. I work in a frenzy- I have to get the game plan started. I have to watch the opponent. I have to draft the practice schedules. Travel? Weather? Injuries? Back-up plans? School week- and yes, I am expected to do very well as a classroom teacher....

Monday afternoon/evening:- team meeting- recap of Friday- Good/bad/ugly- watch film- teach-teach-teach- lift weights-introduced the new opponent- conditioning- kicking game- 7 on 7. Coaches meetings- go over each player- how are we doing? What are challenges? What are tweaks? How do we size up the opponent? Phone calls. A parent is not happy with me and another is thrilled.
I wrap the day up between 7 and 8PM. All the way home, my mind is scheming. I play scenarios over and over. How do they see us? What will they be thinking? What might be their plans? What do we need to rep? Monday night football helps- TV is an excellent distraction, I hope the show is provocative and will shut off my brain. I close my eyes. The flicker is there. I pray. I feel so sorry for my wife, she needs more of me. But I am possessed. Lord, keep it together until the season is over. Help me take advantage of breaks and opportunities. I love my wife and children more than football. It is hard to prove that right now.

Tuesday morning- I got about 7 hours sleep unless it is a big game. If it is a big game, when I wake up- I am up. I hope is is 5:45, but sometimes it is 4:30 or 4 or sadly, sometimes 3:30. I toss and turn, pray, think, and get up.

Last time to really get opponent down- I watch the film again- who are their danger guys? Where are the weaknesses? What are the tendencies? Do they see them? How does the match ups work?

Tuesday Afternoon- BIG DAY/WORK DAY- Meetings and weights- install the plan- teach/teach/teach- Are we focused? Full pads- long, hard practice…tempo tempo- Lord, please keep us healthy-
6:30- practice ends. Usually I feel really good or bad right now. Good practice is a must! It is darker now- we are all tired. I love the laughter in the locker room- great spirit! Coaches laughing- such a great time! Thank you lord!

Tuesday night- I re-engage with the fam- so good to see them! How was the day (and I usually mean 2 days)- I look at my wife- thank you Lord for such a good woman. No words can relate the love I have for my wife of 33 years- see just can’t see it much during the haunting.

Wednesday morning- Deadlines- Scouting report finished- SS finished- playcards have to be finished, printed, laminated, distributed, I spend most of Wednesday on School and Sunday School- grading- recording- planning-

Wednesday afternoon- shorter practice- rehearsal- last reps- sometimes we review Tuesday practice tape- last weightlifting day- usually a fun practice- over at 6PM- church dinner- assistant coaches start painting the game field (update: glad these days to have a turf field).

Wednesday night- I start calling the game in my head- 1st and 10- 2nd and long- 2nd and short- good runs- good passes- 1st play- kickoff or receive?- I study the weather map and forecast- big games I start to get nervous- my stomach feels queasy-

Thursday morning- I’m pumped- it’s Thursday! Thursdays are good. I rehearse the game plan. I’m getting a mental rhythm. Time to call next week’s coach and arrange a film swap. I will sometimes take a sneak peek at the next opponent.

Thursday afternoon- quick meeting- walk thru- team devotion- get them out of here ASAP- feel good- Hay’s in the barn.

Thursday evening- I like a good college game or middle school game. Hopefully I will sleep. I work hard to have no caffeine after lunch. Good family time- End of the week is here. If I lay down and fall asleep quickly- YEAH!- If I start playing the game mentally, it may be a long night. Please don’t wake up before 5:00.

Friday morning- I’m juiced! No tie day- YES!- Quick look at weather and our equipment. Were the headsets plugged in? Mom’s prayer group list…DONE! Thank you for those prayers! Good to see our team in game day wear- I don’t feel badly at all to be in a golf shirt- LUNCH WITH BOOSTERS- fun,light- have to hurry back to class-

3:00 Coaches devotion- the most spiritually intense hour of my week. We lay it out to the Lord- a great time of fellowship- I love my coaches!

4:30 Players arrive- food arrives- I don’t want to eat, but if it is good- I do- I usually feel heavy pressure and adrenaline- I pray- I pee a hundred times from 3-7- I sometimes feel sick- The first few games I feel out of breath because I am not used to the adrenaline. Later in the year, I handle it better- pre game- I look at the other team- they look a lot better in person- I watch my team- are we focused? Smooth?

Meet with officials- I give them captains- I give them information and go through my checklist- and study their faces- is this crew going to be good to us? For some strange reason, I never feel nervous after the official’s meeting- I guess I’m fully now in the combat zone.

The locker room before the game is cool. I always pray very earnestly, Lord I can’t do this without you.

We go out and the game is always a blur. It is never predictable. Highs and lows and a roller coaster of emotional shifts in momentum. I have gotten a lot better about thinking well during the game and cutting mental mistakes down.

Nothing is more thrilling than a big win! It is the ultimate coming together of plan, work, brotherhood, and fight! Nothing wounds more than a heartbreaking loss.

After the game, I go around and hug a lot. I love seeing our players and fans happy. I see my wife and girls. They soothe me well in the losses. Thank you for being here!

And the film turns on. More flickers are burned.

When the season is over, my body totally shuts down and I get sick for about three days. A few days after that the flicker is gone and the madness is over…until next season.

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