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Things To Know About Being A Coach's Spouse

6 Things To Know About Being A Coach’s Spouse

 
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.

6 Things To Know About Being A Coach's Spouse

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.

Liza is a self-proclaimed #wordnerd who loves getting sucked into whimsical novels and epic movies, frequently flying under the coolness radar with her laid-back, practical attitude towards life. A foodie at heart, Liza relishes the chance to both cook and eat. (She's not picky.) She’s on the hunt for the perfect mojito, inspiration for a third tattoo, and world peace. You can also find Liza sharpening her knives over at (a)Musing Foodie.

Comments (24)

  • Clara

    I’m feeling this all too well. My long-term boyfriend and I have been struggling lately with the time-constraints of coaching life, especially because his team is doing so well this year. (IA – he’s putting in double over-time) I’m struggling to be uplifting and supportive of him because Im becoming exhausted of being last on the priority totem pole. Mind you, off season is not this way, and he treats me wonderfully! But lately I feel completely insignificant in his life because of his passion & it’s making me bitter. Something emotionally bothering me? Doesn’t matter to him – it’s petty and doesn’t hold a candle to the issues he has going on on the field so I’m expected to hold my drama to myself until season is over. And yes, he is exhausted. I know you know this all too well, but I’m at a bit of a loss on how to not neglect my own feelings of significance/lose myself & our (most often than not) amazing relationship in the chaos of Friday Night Lights. Any advice would help!

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  • Kaytlin Bechtol

    I’ve been struggling so hard with this years basketball season, my now husband (we are in our first year of marriage) coaches middle school basketball and helps out A LOT with the high school freshman games/practices and scouting all on top of his middle school responsibilities. the last few weeks I haven’t felt like a priority, and when he agrees to help out with something he doesn’t check with me to make sure we didn’t have plans or if it was our day to spend together. I’m a nurse and work nights so this next month because of our differing schedules we will only see each other one day a week and it’s really bringing me down. I used to like basketball but now I hate it and I’ve verbalized to my husband how I don’t like his job and all the time it takes away. I’ve tried to stay positive and optimistic but I’m losing the battle. I can tell my husband is frustrated with my lack of support and the only thing I feel like I can do is say sorry because I feel like such a non-priority.
    I’m not the supportive wife I need to be and I know it… I’m struggling.

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  • Dayana

    I wanted to thank you for posting this. I have been with my boyfriend for two years and with each year he becomes a greater coach. I am proud of him, he is caring, strong and just an overall great guy. But coaching takes time, energy and just about everything from him. It’s hard not to want to be with someone who has more time, who is passionate and in love with me as he is with the sport. It is uplifting that there are marriages that can survive the coaching lifestyle. I haven’t mastered the basketball season yet, or my own selfishness that comes with wanting him by my side instead of on the basketball court. I currently have been struggling with feeling alone in this basketball season, the thought of this lifestyle being manageable was unheard of until I read your post. I will try to work on myself more this season and do all the things I complain that I don’t have time to . Does “keeping yourself busy” lessen the feeling of wanting him near?

    Thank You again

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  • Dana

    I appreciate your positive outlook in this article. My husband has been coaching my daughter’s softball team for the past five years (she is 12). I’ve begun to use the term “obsessed” when referring to the time he spends thinking about coaching, actually coaching, complaining and fretting about the program, etc. Over the years, the sport has begun to take up more and more family time year round. He claims it is the only thing he really enjoys doing (he is self-employed and doesn’t really enjoy what he does for a living anymore). Needless to say, between my kids sports schedules and his, we have very little time together as a family and I feel like I have to fight for him to make the time. His actions have showed me that it isn’t a priority for him. I work and have my own life but I feel more and more disconnected. Are you saying this is normal and I should be supportive?

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  • Heather

    Liza-
    I’m so glad I found your article. Do you have any advice for how to help your husband when the season is not going well?
    Thank you!
    Heather

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  • Maureen

    My husband loves coaching girls basketball. So much so, that when my daughter didn’t want to play he would relentlessly talk her into playing, so he could continue coaching. Season after season. This caused so much strife. He rarely spent time with our son or me, and the time with my daughter was way too intense for a child. He is now my ex-husband. If you aren’t already married, beware.

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  • Julie

    Hello Liza! My husband is a soccer coach of two rep teams. He coaches my 10 year old son’s rep team (his stepson) and his 15 year old daughter’s rep team (my stepdaughter). EACH team has two to three practices a week and a game per week during soccer season (many which are away games). I feel like I rarely see him during the evenings. Of course, in between the games and practices, there are many discussions and phone calls that are soccer related. He is out for most of the evening at least 5 to 6 days a week. It seems like soccer season never ends. Try out’s occur at the end of September immediately after the soccer season has just ended. There is a short break of maybe 2 months then its back to soccer for another 10 months. I am not very needy but I need more “us” time and family time. I guess I would be more supportive if he were actually receiving financial compensation for his time and effort which would benefit our families lifestyle but like you mentioned in the article he “pays” to coach. I love him so much and feel badly complaining about how much time he spends coaching soccer, but I need a partner too. Am I being unreasonable and selfish?

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  • Lisa Baley

    I am in my first 2 months of being a coaches girlfriend. I have struggled with feeling unneeded also in our relationship. The things I keep hearing is…..

    1) I need to continue to be myself and do things that I love to do. Keeping busy will fill my bucket- in turn I will have more energy to fill his.
    2) It’s seasonal….Thank God. Which in the moment it feels like to goes on for years, but in reality basketball season is only until Feb. (for us).
    3)I need to get a life of my own. Be my own person. Independence does not mean I don’t need him. It just means I have to fit myself into his schedule.
    4)He is doing exactly what I love about him…..making a difference in a life of a child and I can’t ask him to not do what truly brings him joy. It would be like asking him to stop breathing.

    Thank you so much. I feel empowered, understood, and I have a better understanding of what he’s going through. It’s not easy but if I remember what’s important to him it makes it easier for me to continue to grow as a person and learn from his love of children and making a difference.

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  • Lisa

    I think as long as they are coaching, the intensity doesn’t change. It’s been 17 years and I’m still a track widow. I’m married to a NCAA coach and he was as driven as a volunteer coach as he is now. What’s helped me deal is having a life outside of the marriage. But sometimes it’s still not enough. Something to look at is not just the coaching work ethic but are they a workaholic? Mine is 100% a workaholic and it’s exhausting trying to plan a vacation or a night off. His schedule is from late August through the end of June (with championships,etc). And people who are not married to a coach just don’t understand why he’s never there or why things have to be planned in advance. I’m pretty burnt out on the whole thing. The moving, the politics, the stress of the season. And I attend events, meet the parents, woo the recruits too. And in the end when they did well, my husband is already focused on how they can always do better. And it’s a never ending cycle of being put last. Check out how many divorces happen in the industry. It’s no joke. And if it feels like you’re being put last as a girlfriend, it doesn’t get better when you’re married. And that’s just the reality of the life. So, if you’re not a very independent person – you’re not going to be happy. I’m a very independent person and I feel like I’m single with none of the benefits of being single. It can be a lonely life.

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  • Bailey

    Liza,
    This totally hits home for me & I was wondering if I could email you maybe and talk? It would be nice to talk to someone who actually knows what I’m going through.

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  • Tracy

    I am so glad I found this. I am struggling internally so much. We have been arguing lately, I feel torn between being supportive and being selfish to have my husband to myself (we have been married 2 1/2 yrs). I love the kind of man/coach he is, I love to see his passion about what he does, I admire him and when I said that to him he told me that I need to find “my own thing”. I was hurt and didn’t understand what he meant, reading this made me understand I need to focus on me too. I am left at home without children (this is our 2nd marriage and I don’t have children from previous marriage, he has older children that live in another state) but we want children. We have discussed adoption but that requires hours of training which he has no time to go to and we both have to have the training, not to mention the interviews and home study that has to be done. So I am starting to give up on the dream of being a mother, which is very difficult for me and he is aware of it. He wants more children but doesn’t seem to understand how much time adopting will take at the beginning. I go to all the games on the weekends which I enjoy because I love to watch the girls play softball and I have finally met friends (moms of a couple of girls on the team) which makes me enjoy it even more. The place I struggle is all the time during the week days he is gone and doesn’t get home until 9 pm or later and then it is eat really quick and off to bed. On top of it he hates his day job so he says he is not happy right now. He is tired all the time and has no energy left for us as a couple. I can’t “make” him happy, he has to figure that part out. I try to be supportive and yet struggle with the lack of time and attention from him. I see I need to find something of my own which I can do at home in the evenings since I am the “dog mom” and need to be home to make sure they aren’t cooped up too long since they are all day while we both work. The other reason I struggle is I hear him say things that I know he has not told me and when I bring it to his attention he gets upset and insists he told me, example, the money he gets paid (which is NOT much and especially with all the time he spends on coaching, practices and lessons) he said he would take that money and pay for a girl to be on the team if their family couldn’t afford to do it if it meant for a girl to have the chance to play. He has never said that to me only that he would coach for free if he had to, but isn’t that what fund raising is for? And he does not understand why I get upset. He does not like hearing what I have to say and says “this is what I am about and this is how it is going to be”. This is why I am beginning to feel resentment. I adore him, he is a good man and I love him and I know he loves me but I feel like a bad person right now, a bad wife and so guilty. I am going to try to take up a hobby at home to see if that helps me with my own feelings and focus during week days. I need to really get my head around all of this because after our conversation yesterday I feel like a bad person/wife and I feel like he doesn’t understand how new all this still is to me trying to get used to this lifestyle since we haven’t been together that long.

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      • Tracy

        Thank you, I will have to think about discussing things when he isn’t in season especially so I can have his full attention. In the meantime, I will have to find a hobby to fulfill my needs and see if that distracts me from thinking about it too much, as I am an overthinker and will just get depressed over this and resentful and I don’t want that. We just have to find a way to communicate better and maybe discuss the option of a therapist if we can’t find a way thru this. I know there is always baggage from previous marriages/relationships that may be having a deeper impact than we both realize right now. I appreciate your insight.

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  • Alexandra

    How do you handle it when your partner coaches 3 nights a week (leaving home about 5,30pm til 9/9,30pm) + 1 weekend game for about 10 and a half months out of the year? (more or less mid August through to 1st of July) He coaches boys soccer. As you say, he brings no money in whatsoever because he uses that money to “pay” his assistant coaches by treating them to meals etc. for their volunteered time and effort. That’s without counting what you mention of gas, time, occasionaly treating the kids to stuff, etc. We are about to have a child and I’m not sure how I can handle having to work our family schedule for household, social activities (because he has lots of friends and a huge family so he also has A LOT of social commitments), vacation travel (my busy work season is summer which is the only time he has a full month from coaching – it is also the most expensive time of the year to travel), my job (which is very time consuming and mentally consuming too because i run a business), his job (which is shift work so he often works nights so he can clear up his schedule for evening training, weekend games and social activities), his studies (he’s doing a masters degree at the moment) and now, time with our new baby, all around his coaching schedule. He says he would rather go part time at work (which of course means substantially less money) than give up coaching and is seriously considering that option in order to be able to do everything else. And I don’t want him to give up something he loves so much but I would like to have a more flexible “hobby” so we could travel more often (something we both LOVE to do), and now for him to be able to be home in the evenings with the baby… or at least get some financial benefit for him investing 16+ hours a week for most of the year. Up to now, we have managed because I’m pretty easy going and enjoy my alone time but I am worried about it taking a toll on our relationship long-term with the baby coming…

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