Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat. Coaching at any level causes stress, and there are many stories of coaches having health issues from the constant toll it can take on a person both mentally and physically.
Bossier High School assistant coach Anthony Johnson from Northwest Louisiana suffered from a major heart attack at the age of 50. The middle-aged man coaches two high intensity sports, football and track. Stress on the coach sparked his heart disease, which ultimately caused the heart attack, according to doctors.
Even more notable is the story of Urban Meyer, the Ohio State football coach who left Florida because of the stress his job had taken on his body. He stepped down at OSU in January because of health problems brought on by coaching.
Bellwood-Antis girls basketball coach Jim Swaney, who’s got nearly 500 wins and a state championship under his belt, said he isn’t surprised to see someone like Urban Meyer be so negatively affected by the stress of coaching. “For college coaches their livelihood depends on wins or losses. When you have a family that can be very stressful. There is so much more media scrutiny on top of that, you have to choose your words very carefully,” said Swaney.
The constant race to try and be the best has coaches taking major time away from their daily lives and their families. No matter the level of coaching there is a sense of stress leaving your family day after day to be a role model and a leader for your team. In some ways it’s no different for coaches at Bellwood-Antis.
For many coaches on the high school level, a big issue is family matters.
Bellwood-Antis boys basketball coach Kevin Conlon said, “There is a lot of stress in not seeing your family, and quite honestly that is the biggest downside of coaching.
“I am married with two young daughters and during basketball I don’t get to see them nearly as much as I should. My work schedule keeps me out most days until 5 and then practice until 8:30 and it is hard to spend quality time at home.”
Coach Swaney isn’t different in that sense.
“That is one of the hardest things about coaching,” said Coach Swaney, who was raising young boys while coaching at Tyrone in the 1990’s. “I remember days in the 80’s and 90’s when I had a game and my wife was loading two small kids into a car and going to another gym to film for me. Without the support of your family this job is impossible.”
B-A football coach Nick Lovrich said family plays a very supportive role in his coaching, but it can also bring personal stress.
“It makes me feel bad sometimes that I spend more time with everyone else’s kids than my own,” said Coach Lovrich, who has a wife and two daughters.
“Coaching takes up a lot of time both during the season and the off-season, so it does make it hard when you have a family, especially when you have kids. My daughter Alexis played volleyball the last two years and I think I saw her play one time in two years, so I have to miss out on a lot of things because of my coaching.”
While Coach Lovrich misses out on a lot, he said his family is understanding of his position and are supportive.
“Luckily, I have a great support system at home. My wife, Missy, was a former coach so she understands what it takes to be a coach. Our families are very helpful while I am coaching too, so that helps make things a lot easier for me to be able to coach.”
Even with a great support system, Coach Lovrich recognizes stress can extend to his family.
“I am sure it is tough for them to sit in the stands and hear people say negative things about me or our team or for my daughters to be known as Coach Lovrich’s kids, which could be good or bad for them at times,” said Coach Lovrich. “The support system at home is probably the biggest thing for me. My wife and daughters are very supportive of me coaching and that keeps some of my stress away. I think some of my personality traits help too.”
Head softball coach Jim Payne circumvented the pressures of coaching life and family life by combining them.
“Having Taylor and Ashtyn play for me has been the best thing a father could ask. (My wife) Wendy has enjoyed being a mom who stays back and lets her kids shine. Basically softball has come to define our family and we are okay with that,” said Payne.
STRESS OF SUCCESS
Coaches of high profile sports can also find stress in dealing with the media. Coach Swaney is no rookie when it comes to dealing with the media and fans. Multiple games he has coached have been on massive media websites and even television, including last years PIAA championship. “I do not stress in that. I love having the media coverage and the gym packed with fans,” said Coach Swaney. “To be honest, once the game starts I could not tell you if there are 50 people in the gym or 500.”
Coach Conlon said the nature of any sport generates pressure.
“There is always stress with anything competitive because
kids put a lot of pressure on themselves.” said Conlon.
With football being the biggest fall sport at B-A, everyone is watching. Football is already such a high intensity, high stress sport, with Coach Lovrich stepping in as a first-year head coach to replace 30-year legend John Hayes, people were judging his performance from the start.
“There are different types of stress from it though. There is the stress that you put on yourself first. You want to do the best job you can, so you put a lot of demands on yourself,” said Coach Lovrich. “Then you have the stress where you are trying to do what is best for every kid on your team, but sometimes there are people who are just concerned about that one individual player, so you can get second guessed a lot. Then I think there is the stress of just being a coach, where everyone knows who you are and people are watching to see what you are doing.”
“ I work really hard to do what is best for our team and feel confident that what we are doing is what is best for us as a team.”
Coach Swaney said that one of the biggest stressors is when one of his players are unhappy or disappointed with their playing time.
“Winning always helps take some of that stress away for both me and the player,” said Coach Swaney.
DEALING WITH STRESS
When Coach Swaney gets stressed he deals with it by taking a step back. “Like anything else you need a break. My wife and i like to get away for the weekend, and I play a lot of golf,” Coach Swaney said.
Some coaches have to spend months on end with their team. “It’s like I adopted 53 sons,” Coach lovrich said.
Softball is a classic B-A sport that always has success under Coach Payne, who has won two District 6 titles, but even with the team struggles recently, Payne’s philosophical perspective has allowed him to handle the game and avoid stress. “For me success is a perception. I have found over the years that you can have a bad season and win few games and still be successful,” he said. “Teaching the game is, and always will be, the goal. Wins and losses happen despite odds. This thinking has left my stress level reduced. I feel all of my stress between the lines.
“Coaching is way easier when there are no expectations. Every year only six teams in the whole state finish with a win. So, if you are not one of them people think your unsuccessful. However, the talent we have been blessed with has always done their best to make Bellwood softball a tradition not just a program!”
In the end, it’s a game. Games are played to compete and enjoy the time spent with a team that can truly get together and form a bond.
“One thing that is important, especially at a small high school like ours, is to remember that these sports are meant to be fun,” said Coach Conlon.
This story was originally published on The BluePrint on February 6, 2019.