Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To coach or not to coach, that is the question

Why would anyone choose to hand the stability of his or her employment over to the performances of 18 to 22 year-olds? And that's after getting 16, 17 and 18 year-olds to believe in the first place.

Think about it.

Whether or not you remain employed and all the possibilities emanating from such are in the hands of young men.

Freud would have probably left his profession after being unable to get to the core of this conundrum.

Maybe it's a virus and once exposed to, there's no known antidote.

Or just an in-the-trenches, take-your-chances bravery?

Or is it simply because coaches gotta coach?

Make up your own mind but first read the following, an education on the coaching profession from newly appointed Sacramento State Associate Head Coach Brandon Laird.

But first some quick background.

Laird attended and played basketball for El Camino High School in Sacramento. He then played and graduated from UC Davis. His coaching résumé includes stints at El Camino, Davis and Menlo College, the latter as both an assistant and a head coach.

So why do individuals willingly enter the coaching ranks?

"I don't know if any coach can ever answer that," Laird responded.

Or each may have a separate reason for entering the world's ficklest profession, one where winning makes you a genius while losing engenders the likes of visceral hatred normally reserved for puppy kickers.

Growing up, Laird had the situation many enjoy, that being himself and his three brothers living and breathing sports.

But once the playing days are concluded, something can be missing.

For Laird, "it was a profession I was drawn to because I felt comfortable in a locker room environment. I believe I have a good understanding of how athletes think and are motivated."

Some label it a calling but whether it's of the higher or lower order is in the brain and lungs of the ticket holder, the often capricious fan base member.

It could have been business, finance, even law school for Laird but "the being part of a team and working with young men proved irresistible."

Thinking he might want to coach, he got into substitute teaching at El Camino High. "I felt I wanted to stay in basketball" so he assisted Coach Justin Clymo and "I realized it was what I wanted to do."

But Laird offers this admonition: "You can't chart a career path because the coaching profession is so unpredictable. Every story is unique. I had no idea where I was going with it but I knew it was something I wanted to do. Call it blind faith."

But the stars have certainly been aligned for Laird.

"I've been blessed to stay in northern California my entire life, and now to stay and work in my hometown with Coach Katz at Sacramento State. Each job opened at the right time and that's something so hard to get at this level. It's very rare that time and place come together. I always take the approach to work as hard as I can at my current job and not worry about what's next."

As for evaluating the employment possibilities, Laird offered, "choose who you are going to surround yourself with so that it's a positive environment and that you're aligned with a head coach with whom you share a similar philosophy and values. It's your family and you'll spend more time with them than your real family. You want to be in a good environment, with good people and good student/athletes."

He added, "everyday I'm trying to absorb new information and learn. Our job, as assistant coaches, is to understand what the head coach wants and help him in any capacity."

Laird also amusingly noted that "when you're an assistant coach, you're always right. You make the best calls and suggestions. But as a head coach, it's so much tougher because you have to own those decisions, even when they are wrong.”

Asked about the standard belief that every coach pines to become the head one, Laird said, "You would be surprised at the ratio. A lot of coaches are happy as an assistant. Some like scouting and game preparation, others love skill development and working out guys. Other assistants enjoy the recruiting or the day-to-day administrative tasks. As a head coach, it’s entirely different, you have 13-17 players and 5-7 staff all under your umbrella. Running a program is a lot like running a business organization with the head coach serving as CEO.”

Laird also explained the opportunities that can be available at the various levels.

"So many people think coaching is putting on a suit and tie and being on television Thursday and Saturday nights, but remember there are many great jobs at the NAIA, D-3 and D-2 levels. Don't pigeonhole yourself to a specific level or job and be open to everything. Be bold, take risks. Some of best coaches I've seen are at lower levels."

He also counseled, "my best advice is to love it. Be committed, be fully invested, with no hesitation or backup plan. Otherwise the job has the potential to eat you up."

Continuing on, Laird offered, "you have to be thick skinned as a coach, especially nowadays with the non-stop social media and non-stop highlights. Plus, there's not a lot of balance in your life because it's a 24/7/365 job."

He added one very important aspect: "it’s very likely that you will have very little income or stability for the first 8-10 years."

Ouch.

For those still envisioning coaching as their profession, Laird offered this advice for breaking in: "the biggest challenge is getting your foot in the door. Get connected with a school and a program in any capacity you can, even as a team manager. Get aligned and work your tail off. Even if an opportunity doesn't appear where you are, an opposing coach might be impressed with your work or you might make a connection with an assistant who will become a head coach one day and want to hire you on his staff."

So forget those "be all that you can be" and "be an army of one" clarion calls -- try 'be publicly second guessed for 40 minutes a night and love it.'

Because it's in the blood.

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