OPINION – There are a lot of jobs out there in the world that don’t pay that well, but we take them anyway.
Sometimes it’s because we have no choice. Perhaps we need the money and any amount will help keep us off the streets. It could be because we lack the skills or training to do anything else. Or it could be because we love what we do and the job itself is the reward.
In the sports world, especially at the high school level, coaches are poorly compensated financially. They put in unbelievably long hours, especially in-season, and are often chastised by parents, criticized by fans and analyzed by sports writers, many of whom haven’t the faintest idea how hard these men and women work.
I work hard and I love my job. Let’s face it, covering sports for a living is a pretty good gig. And at my age (somewhere north of 40, OK?), I realize that getting paid is crucial. If I don’t bring home money, we don’t eat. In other words, I can’t work for free.
But these coaches, who support their families on a teacher’s salary plus a very small coaching stipend, really define what it means to do something because they love it. It is the only logical reason why anyone would do what they do.
Let’s take a fictitious sport, I’ll call it duckball. John Smith is the head varsity coach for the popular sport of duckball at a local high school. The summer has just ended. He had camps in June and conditioning in August, which left a little time in July, when it’s 110 degrees, for him to do yard and home projects, family vacations and to care for assorted personal cares (dentist and health issues, etc.).
Because of the tremendous pressure to win from fans and administrators, Coach Smith has a couple of ulcers and a persistent case of acid reflux. His team looks pretty good this year and spent much of the summer in the weight room, hoping to make it to the duckball state championship. Coach Smith opens up the school’s weight room three times a week at 6 a.m. all summer for his players.
Coach knows after a sub-.500 record last season, if his team falters again this year, he could be out of a job. So he has rededicated himself to finding that winning combination. That means longer hours away from his family, on his feet at practice, trying to teach the boys the basics of duckball. And the basics in life.
As the season-opener approaches, Coach starts to refine his depth chart. The best players need to be on the field when the games are on the line. This brings the first big round of parental dissenters.
No less than eight dads or moms make a visit to Coach Smith, either right after practice or during the coach’s little time at home. His phone rings incessantly.
The general message from mom or dad is, “My son is better than you’re giving him credit for. He deserves more time with the first team.” Many parents question the coach’s qualifications for even doing his job.
After quelling the insurrection, Coach Smith again tries to focus on the kids. Despite the pressures to win, Coach Smith takes the time to teach his players about respect for women, about honesty, about trust. The kids nod in agreement and even grunt acknowledgment, but days later one of the projected starters is hauled in for underage drinking.
Coach Smith has to do the right thing, but what is that? Suspend the kid and put him on probation? Meet with the kid and trust him that it won’t happen again? Pull him from the starting line-up? Cut him altogether?
Coach makes his decision, then tries to focus again on the team. After suspending the player for a couple of games, many fans are angry that the coach would hurt the team like this. “Boys will be boys,” they say. Others are saying the punishment is too light. Why didn’t the coach make an example out of the kid and send a message to the other players?
Meanwhile, the season-opening game approaches. Practices have been long, brisk and optimistic. Dozens of little details have to be ironed out. One player is having his wisdom teeth pulled, another tweaked his hamstring and yet another had a fight with his parents and is living with a friend. And his cleats are back at home. Plus the activities association called and a couple of rule changes may make a new move-in ineligible. There’s a hearing next Monday in Salt Lake City. And someone needs to distribute the uniforms.
As game day approaches, Coach Smith gets those now-familiar butterflies. He’s never won a state championship, but his teams are usually competitive. That matters to him, but not as much as one might think.
Instead, what makes him the most proud is the former players who are doctors and successful businessmen. He trembles with pride when a “project” player sends him a college commencement invitation. He beams with joy when one of his “boys” becomes a Navy Seal or mayor of a city.
And the nervousness he feels before the game begins isn’t about winning and losing. It’s about the hope that the young men he has taught have learned how to succeed, how to play with class, how to represent the school and themselves in a manner that says to all who watch, “This is a man.”
The lights go on and the stands are full. Coach Smith looks around at the players – at his team. And he smiles.
The pay is little, but the payoff is great. Coach Smith is a rich man.