Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's Notebook. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A head coach position is a dynamic and short term role. After every season you hear all the rumors about who is moving where and who is replacing who. Yet, despite all the activity, you likely have a very foggy notion of how your own coaching job will end. Until it does end. Suddenly. The fact is, very few coaches think about what the end of their job will be like until it happens. Did you really think it would last forever?
Now, you may be able to think of few cases where someone was a head coach for a couple decades (or more!) and then retired to some fanfare and appropriate recognition at the end-of-season banquet. Perhaps there were some nice words, a plaque and even a teary-eyed speech to the folks in attendance.
Well, it doesn't quite work out that way 99% of the time.
Coaches get fired all the time. Sometimes they deserve it, more often they don't. All it takes is a disgruntled parent, an unsupportive administrator or a few rebellious players. Maybe your boss simply would prefer to have his friend coach your team instead of you. Its not nice. Its not fair. Its also not a reflection of how hard you worked, and know that losing your coaching job is certainly not an indicator that you are a "bad" coach.
Some coaches decide to resign their positions. Why would they do that? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Most coaches are volunteers. Volunteers may coach for free, but they still need to feed their families and pay their bills. That means their primary job comes first and if that means there is no longer any time left for coaching - too bad. Another common reason is when a coach needs to put his family ahead of coaching. Being a husband and a father (or wife and mother) is far more important than being a coach. Sometimes there are forces at work that take all the fun out of coaching. If that's the case, why do something that is making you miserable? Life is too short!
The purpose of this article is not to discuss why coaches become non-coaches, but rather how to handle this sudden change in life-style. One day you're a coach. The next you're not. Maybe you saw it coming, maybe not. How you deal with it is a real test of character. Expect to learn some things about yourself.
For the remainder of the article, pretend that you have just lost or left your coaching job.
Expect to feel a little stunned at the change in your lifestyle. After all, coaches eat, sleep and talk their sport around the clock. Now you're not a coach anymore. You might feel a little lost. You might feel betrayed. You may feel ostracized from the kids and from your coaching friends. You might even feel very angry, and you will want to do something about it. That's where the problems lie. You will want to do things that may likely affect your home life and any possible coaching opportunities in the future.
While its natural to feel grumpy after losing or leaving your coaching position, think a minute about your family. Chances are your family has been the quietly supportive partner in your coaching career. They (she/he) have put up with your absences, alternative commitments, bad moods after losses - all of that. And now that you no longer are the coach, its even worse. You become impossible to live with.
I ask you to look at your family life as your new future. Start over ... enthusiastically. If you have been neglecting your spouse, make amends. Do better. If you have been too busy to be with your kids, change that. If your parents are still alive, call them. The point is that it isn't time to make your family pay for your coaching misfortunes. You owe them. Its time to pay them back.
Now think about your friends, especially those in the basketball community. Chances are you want to tell them all about your ordeal and then listen to their sympathy and understanding, and hopefully a little outrage in your behalf. If you lost your job, you'll want them to agree that it wasn't your fault. If you left, you'll want them to tell you that you were justified in doing so. Those are natural feelings. Why shouldn't you do these things?
I ask you to imagine what you look like when you make the rounds commiserating with your acquaintances. First of all, your status in the basketball community IS a little diminished when you are no longer a coach. You may not have a role any more. But what is worse is when you walk up to everyone you know to solicit support. Its demeaning. Its whining. Its beneath you. The reality is that no one truly cares except you. Parents aren't going to rally to your defense. They will only rally to defend their child. Coaches can be replaced; kids cannot. The administration won't care. They're too busy. Once your former spot is filled, their concern is over.
Now think about your former players. It may be awkward for them, especially if you are still in their life as a teacher, a parent or a "concerned" adult. What possible good can you do by criticizing your replacement or your former administration? Do you believe your former players won't play without you? Ha! Even your former players don't really care that you are not coaching. They have a new team to make and a new season to play. Who the coach may be is secondary to those concerns.
I ask you to maintain your dignity with your former players. Appreciate the time you had with them. If they ask for basketball help, offer what you can, but within the structure of their new coach's program. If your input may be construed as interference, butt out. They may come to you to complain about their playing time or their new offensive system. Don't feel like you must take their side and lend a sympathetic ear. Be the adult. Tell them to support their coach and the program. Its what you would have wanted if you were still the coach. The worst thing you can do for your players, no matter how much you care, is to be a distraction for them. Let them go.
You have heard (and maybe preached to your players) that it is HOW you react to adversity that measures your character. Your reaction to not being a coach can definitely determine if you will ever have a chance to coach again. If you can handle this situation with a little class and dignity:
Or everything thing could end up in a completely opposite manner. Its up to you.
I can think of examples where displaced coaches have claimed they were going to sue the school system, bad-mouthed the program, encouraged former players not to participate and sought parental involvement to recall the new coach or to lobby the administration. None of these examples came to any good, not one. Former coaches who have done such things do not make attractive candidates for the next open position.
If you have been coaching for any length of time, there will be many people who know you. Once the news gets around, expect to hear the same questions asked over and over again. It will help if you think about them ahead of time and then be able to provide consistent answers. Folks will talk and compare what you said. Its human for them to look for the "real" story and make up some juicy gossip. Don't give them any more fuel than necessary. You don't want to say hurtful things that you may need to retract or apologize for later on. Stay upbeat if you can.
"Why do you want to quit coaching kids?"
That's what I was asked repeatedly when I resigned from my position as a high school boys JV basketball coach. And you know what? It is a very good question. How will you answer that question when the time comes for you? Before you blurt out an answer, consider what you are saying. First, there is a big difference between quitting and finishing. Quitting is like surrender. When you quit something, it means you give up. You decide not to do it anymore. You walk away, maybe in the middle of the season. Finishing has a much better connotation. You completed the job. You wrapped up your loose ends. This is an honorable conclusion to your coaching stint. I tell them I didn't quit coaching kids, I just finished that job and I'm ready for the next one.
"Why did you leave/lose your job?"
There is a huge temptation to put the blame on someone else. The parents were unreasonable, there was racial bias, the administration didn't support me ... all of these are excuses. If you use them, you look weak. Plus, it takes a long time to explain all the points and counter-points that you have been mulling in your head at night while lying sleepless in your bed. Nobody wants to listen to all that drivel. Its much harder to accept responsibility for what happened, but folks will be satisfied if you just give them a simple answer. Pick one:
Even if your reason for leaving was for some dark, treacherous dealings by parties unnamed, just choose one of these reasons and avoid the sordid explanation.
"What are you going to do now?"
Well, that is the most delicious question of all. You have a chance for a new start. Maybe another coaching opportunity will fall right into your lap. Maybe not. The important thing is to realize you just gained a LOT of hours in your week that you can devote to whatever endeavor appeals to you. If you have a strong desire to work with kids, there are so many avenues you can help. If it must be basketball, volunteer your time somewhere else. There are recreational programs everywhere that need adult coaches. If you truly coached for the sake of the kids before, you can still do that for another program. If you were into coaching for some other reason, maybe its not such a bad thing that you are not coaching anymore now. Think about it.
All coaching jobs come to an end. You might actually retire or you may drop dead in your courtside folding chair, but for most of us you will either decide to leave or be told to leave. When that happens, remember all the values you have taught your players. Hopefully you have taught yourself as well. Walk away with all the dignity you can muster, even if it hurts. With time it won't hurt as bad. And, if you truly love the profession, don't be surprised if you soon find yourself diagramming on the clipboard again.