A lacrosse widow. That’s what I was called from March through the end of May every year for the first 13 years of my marriage—which, coincidentally, is the same number of years we’ve been married.
You can’t take being a coach’s spouse lightly.
Being a coach for a sports team—a really good coach—takes time and energy. We all know this. Beyond the obvious, successful coaches also have a few other things going for them: empathy, strong leadership skills, ability to delegate, and support at home.
My husband’s a lacrosse coach. He played lacrosse growing up, and also in college. To say he “loves the sport” would be putting it lightly, and if it weren’t for a few knee surgeries, broken bones, and surgically repaired herniated discs over the years, I bet he’d still be out there playing on an adult club team. He loves the game, all parts of it.
Throughout the past two decades, my husband’s coached U12 club teams, high school varsity boys’ lacrosse teams, and travel teams. Most recently, he was hired to start a men’s lacrosse program at a local two year college—today happens to be the first day of its inaugural season.
I’ve been sitting on the figurative sidelines for over 15 years (lacrosse was a part of his life before we got married, too), with support and encouragement. Lacrosse is a fun sport, but I’m not passionate about it. I like writing, watching movies, cooking…eating. I spend spare time volunteering my time serving on non-profit boards, traveling for work and conferences, and reading for the three book clubs I’m in. He’s supportive of all my interests, too.
My point is, you don’t have to love all the same things as your spouse in order to have a healthy, supportive relationship. I’ve learned a thing or two over the years about what it means to be encouraging, without also sacrificing my needs (or wants).
Being a coach takes a lot of time. A LOT OF TIME. And, the good ones not only invest their time, they also invest their hearts. All the lacrosse players my husband has coached throughout the years? He doesn’t call them players. They’re his kids.
6 Things To Know About Being A Coach’s Spouse
1. It’s about passion.
You know what coaches get paid? Next to nothing. Okay, there are a minority of college-level coaches who earn a meager salary, and still fewer who make a lot of money (think huge four year colleges, with names you’d recognize nationwide, where lacrosse is a major sport).
The big joke at our house is that we actually have to pay for my husband to coach—the check never even comes close to equaling the cost of gas, time spent on the field, creating strategies, scouting, mentoring off the field, and managing emotional parents.
But, it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it for him. So, in turn, it’s worth it for me. He’s passionate about guiding these young players and helping them build a solid foundation for a spot on future teams.
2. You don’t have to be into the sport, or involved with the team.
I like lacrosse. It’s fast-paced, full of energy, and pretty easy to follow. (Actually, even after all these years, I still couldn’t tell you all the rules of the game, or even which position does what.) That said, I don’t make every one of his games. One or two per season, that’s probably realistic.
Part of that’s because we have two kids, and my idea of a fun Thursday evening when they were young was NOT to wrangle little people in the stands, when they’re starving and tired and completely disinterested in everything except eating the stadium’s gravel.
No. Just, no.
Now that the kids are older, they have their own activities, so during the season I find myself managing their extracurriculars. Though, when we can, we do try to make games. Our kids—now at ages 11 and 7—can control themselves, and they enjoy watching games
or running around an adjacent field.
If you’re able to go to all the games, and you enjoy that, great. But being too involved with the team can be a problem. Over the years I’ve helped in small ways when he’s asked, like washing uniforms at the end of the season, or helping to draft letters to parents or potential players. His “team mom” and/or coaching team handle all the day-to-day stuff.
PRO TIP: If your spouse coaches at the high school level or younger, he or she should really have a “team parent” who’s super organized, and who’s well respected among the coaches, players, and other parents.
3. Understand the commitment.
If your spouse is going to have any chance of succeeding, you—yes, you—need to understand what it takes to get there.
Most coaches have full-time jobs (see #1 above), so practice has to happen later in the day. Like, during dinnertime, and likely your kids’ bedtimes, too. And, when she’s not on the field, she’ll need to do things like fill out paperwork, make sure assistant coaches understand the game plan, review film, and check out other teams’ games.
She’ll need to talk to parents about which colleges their 16-year-old daughters should consider (and which to stay away from), and she’ll need to have a heart-to-heart with a player whose grades aren’t strong enough to continue being a part of the team (followed by what it’ll take to come back).
If you have a job that requires traveling, has long hours, or if you want to do other things (visit with friends, join a book club, volunteer, etc.) during the season and you have children, formulate a childcare back up plan. We’re lucky to have family nearby, so when I have a board meeting, or if I have overnight work travel, we’re able to tap on them to help out. If you don’t have family nearby, what does that look like? Maybe other coaches’ spouses can watch the kids (see #4 below), or maybe you have good friends who would be happy to assist in a pinch. Figure it out before the season starts so things stay as un-stressful as possible.
This all takes time and planning—for both of you. Lots of time. You need to understand this is what it takes for a coach to be great, beyond knowledge of the sport and having talented players. TIME.
4. The players (and coaches) become an extended family.
The players are my husband’s kids, plain and simple. Even the college-aged ones. His attachment to them has never ended when they step off the field; he’s always thinking about them. Even after they leave his team and head off to college, or start coaching a team of their own, or get married and start a family of their own.
The coaches are like his brothers (and one actually is his brother). My husband’s always been talented at surrounding himself with assistant coaches who have a like-minded approach, same level of passion for the game and the kids, and who he’d say are, “Smarter than I am.” It’s not a one man show.
What he’s effectively done with each team that he’s led, is he’s learned how to build a coaching family where each member supports the other, and each fills a specific need for the team. He’s able to step back and oversee the the strategy as a whole, and trusts his coaching partners to manage the details. Accolades go to everyone, not only to him as the head coach. They’re a team, too.
This is a winning recipe for a healthy coaching brotherhood (or sisterhood), and an excellent example of good leadership.
5. Be supportive.
Don’t be a drag. Understanding the first four things I’ve mentioned will certainly help, but ultimately you need to be in a frame of mind to support and lift. It doesn’t mean you have to put your own needs and schedule on the back burner, but—and this is especially important when you have kids—a coach’s spouse needs to be a cheerleader.
No, not a literal cheerleader. More of a champion. A lifter-upper. And, not all fake; you have to mean it.
You need to be supportive of the endeavor, the heart that goes into it all. Your kids, if you have them, need to see that you support your spouse. That what she’s doing is awesome, and difficult, and tiring, and important. She’ll be away most evenings coaching other people’s kids, and your own children need to understand what an awesome difference she’s making in their lives.
If your kids play sports, maybe your spouse is their coach. If they don’t play sports, or if your spouse isn’t their coach, that’s fine, too. It’s extra important during the season to find pockets of time to do family things together, and those things are likely NOT going to just happen. You’ll have to work as a team to plan one family dinner a week, have a family game night, or to go to a movie together.
Then, when the season’s over, and your coach spouse has a moment to breathe, plan more family time together (and take a break yourself).
6. Be positive, listen, and provide perspective.
Your job isn’t to be critical. You’re not a coach, or part of the coaching staff. You don’t know all the gritty details of what’s going on with the team dynamics, the strategy, the parents, the kids. So, don’t act like you do.
What you can do, though, is listen. Be an ear, help look at the bright side when things are frustrating and tough, and provide third party perspective. The benefit of not being too close to the team itself is that you see things differently. Not as a coach. Not as a player. Not as a parent of a player. This can be quite valuable.
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