Behind the Whistle: It's Never Done, and That's OK

PHOTO COURTESY OF MUHLENBERG ATHLETICS


This story initially appeared on Behind the Whistle, the official blog of the IWLCA, and is being republished with permission from the organization. Kristen Stuckel is the head coach at Muhlenberg College.

“Work gives you meaning and purpose, and life is empty without it.” — Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author

I was definitely naive when I first started coaching. I knew I loved the sport, the competition and that it required many hours for success. But I didn’t know it would be so hard to turn it off. Was I silly to think that, at the end of the day, I would feel like I got all my work done when I left the office? The office door would close, and it was family or personal time.

With college coaching, it’s never done; a recruit has committed and it’s on to the next. Solved one player’s class conflict with an away game, and there’s a player waiting to see you in the office. The phone rings, and it’s plant ops and they can’t string the cage right. There’s a parent email waiting in your inbox. A recruit wants to meet you Sunday midday. The list goes on.

How do you know when to change gears away from work and that you have put in a full day of productivity? When is it time to put the phone down, not check for a late-night text from a player who is not feeling well or recruit who has a time change at a tournament? When should I avoid looking at emails so I can make sure I can actually sleep without some weird lacrosse dream? 

I love to be constantly accomplishing. My dad said our family was born under the sign of Busy, but how do I have work-life balance and avoid burn out when all I can think about is growing my players and winning? This may seem simple and seem like information you have already heard many times, but reminders of the little things always help me to refocus.

PRIORITIZE

Prioritizing and knowing yourself is key to keeping on task. Analyze that list each morning. Whether you like to use pen and paper or your laptop, find what works for you.

I constantly make notes on my phone throughout the day but also love a good sticky note full of tasks. Get specific on your list. What fires must be put out immediately, and what can wait? Do something you feel confident about as your pregame warmup, then tackle that difficult task like it’s game time.

While having my coffee, I like to get several easier tasks completed to get me rolling. Don’t be afraid to delegate, if appropriate, which can increase productivity. Take pride in crossing off a task completed! A quick nightly audit of what worked and what can be done better helps fuel efficiency for the next day. Set ways to feel accomplished at the end of the day knowing that small investments into your players and program matter, even if the work is never done.







TIME BUSTERS

Where do you get bogged down? I am so glad we can be back in the office full time and see our colleagues. It’s great to be able to walk down the hall and ask Coach Eddinger what the protocol is for something; I am using my resources to get the job done. However, I do find there are times I need to keep my door closed (or perhaps just partially closed because I love to chat) and not get distracted by water cooler talk.

We as coaches take much to heart. Coaching is not just a job. It is a passion we pour ourselves into. This can be extremely helpful and powerful but can also open us up to fixating on things we can’t control. Arriving late to a game, bad calls by the ref, games that didn’t go as planned, unexpected losses, substitute rotations askew, poor time management with the clock or words said in the heat of the battle. Learn from these opportunities, but know when to move on.

Coaches can also be very exposed to criticism, which can bog us down and steal our productivity. With criticism, listen mostly to those that are invested in you and important in your life. Use those critiques to become stronger and better. Lean on your mentors or colleagues to help work through issues that may be draining your energy. A different viewpoint, or another way to look at an obstacle, can sometimes redirect and help you get back on track. Recognizing your time killers can be a game changer.

RECHARGE AND SURVIVE

It’s important to know how to unwind and relax, besides from just sheer exhaustion. Can you be with just yourself and let your mind wander? Having a hobby is key.

I am probably guilty here. Most times, I want to spend time with my family and do what makes my kids happy. I often find myself at a sporting event during my off time. I am competitive and definitely enjoy it, but of course, I revert back to the coach mindset and have to know whether to have the mom voice or coach voice turned on after a game (that’s a whole other blog).

Getting outside, engaging in physical activity or surrounding yourself with good people can be therapeutic. I also love walking my dog (yes, my family convinced me to get a dog during the pandemic), trying to play tennis or pickle ball, reading and any time outdoors helps me recharge. Know that the time you invest in yourself won’t take away from your coaching success but rather fuel you to be more productive.

WHAT KEEPS YOU COMING BACK FOR MORE?

Understand what you love about the job that keeps you coming back for more. Is it the growth seen in players, the “Thanks, coach,” 10 years later, the strategic moves to counterattack a top notch team, the wins?!? 

Just as we tell our players to make that highlight reel to play over in their head, we as coaches need to do the same. Time on the field with the athletes, seeing players try something you suggested and finding success, watching your team celebrate the smaller accomplishments along the way, reconnecting with an alumnus back on campus, getting pictures of a former player’s wedding day or children, helping your team score that game winning goal, and inspiring someone to make the right decision – this all keeps me coming back for more!

In the end, the work is never done. And that’s OK. Coaching is draining, fulfilling and never ending. Celebrate the tasks done and be glad there are more waiting. You are needed, wanted and driven, which leads to a long, healthy and purposeful life.

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