Coaches’ Health Concerns Often Focused in Wrong Area.

Sam Obitz / September 30th, 2010 / No Comments »

Ever since Michigan State University head football coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack after his teams thrilling overtime victory against Notre Dame, there have been numerous articles written about how coaches need to take better care of themselves. This is undoubtedly true, but the focus in these articles is always on an exercise regimen, watching their diet and getting enough rest. Of course all of the above are important concerns. The problem is that they are overlooking what I consider to be the most important part of the equation: How a coach handles the stress that comes with the job internally.

Many coaches blame the increased pressure they are under on outside sources. I argue that each coach has the ability to ignore outside pressure if they are on their mental game. It’s the same situation as in what we perceive as high pressure moments in sports. The athletes who have a well developed mental game look at taking a last second shot as a fun opportunity and feel no pressure in that situation. On the other hand, the athlete who is underdeveloped mentally will let the outside sources in, feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders and likely fail.

The first college coach that comes to my mind when I think of the picture of physical fitness is Urban Myer of Florida.Yet despite his great physical appearance, exercise regimen and diet he almost gave up coaching last year as a result of the health problems he was having. Conversely, you have Joe Paterno who is in his 80’s and was under extreme pressure to step down a few years ago and suffered no ill health. Or Ralph Friedgen the head coach at Maryland who is the picture of poor physical fitness and in danger of being fired, yet he has had no reported serious health problems.

I contend that if you have the proper mental game, your physical fitness – while still important- becomes secondary. However, just like most athletes, coaches spend 95% of their time on the physical and 5% on the mental side of their jobs to their own detriment.

Your outlook and attitude are crucial in your ability to handle pressure and thrive, just ask Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, or anyone with a reputation for performing in the clutch. This is no different than people you know in everyday life. We all have outside pressures but some people let it in and others don’t.

It all starts with your attitude!

Look at the three following quotes and it becomes clear which one of these coaches is the most likely to suffer health problems in the future.

“I don’t think of it as stress,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “I think coaching football isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. We chose to be in this.”

“This job is pressure packed, and it’s more pressure packed now than it’s ever been because of ESPN, because of the national sports scene, because of all the instant communications out there,” said Gary Pinkel, who has transformed Missouri into one of the top programs in the Big 12 during his tenure.

“There are people who work two jobs to put their kids through school,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Farmers have stress. Is it raining too much? Too little? … If I was in Iraq right now — (Hawkeye linebacker) Jeff Tarpinian’s dad was over there a couple months; he volunteered to do it. All you have to do is talk to him and find out coaching’s a pretty good deal.”

It’s clear a lot of coaches would benefit from spending more time developing their mental game.

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