The Grind of Coaching Football

Dealing with the Demands of the Profession.

Everybody talks about “the grind” like it’s some sort of good thing. But, it’s not… It’s exhausting. And there are better ways to coach football than subjugating yourself to “the grind”.

The Grind

Picture this…
You have two professional lumberjacks both chopping down trees.

The first is drenched in sweat. He’s exhausted and tired beyond imagination…
He started before the sun rose and worked past sunset to hit his quota for the day.

“What a hard worker,” you say.

But…
The other lumberjack is sitting on a bench… sipping lemonade and sharpening his axe. The first lumberjack is using a dull axe, chopping faster and harder and longer…

But the second, his axe is razor sharp. He gets the same cutting power with one swing that the other gets from 3 swings…
At the end of the day, the second lumberjack (the one who seemingly worked less but smarter) wins… every single time.

Who would you rather be?

I spent the initial part of my career embracing this grind with a workaholic mentality believing it would serve me and the program. I can remember what triggered it all. In 1989, I was in a staff meeting at Kansas State and our head coach made this statement…

As an impressionable young coach, I bought that hook, line, and sinker. I chose to make the effort to be at the office early and leave late. I just figured that by putting in those 18 hour days year round, I would be the foot soldier our head coach wanted me to be. The days were long and we got a lot of work done … Always searching for an edge.

Never any down time… Well, occasionally I’d take a day off to do my laundry then scurry back to the office.

Yes, I was part of the greatest turnaround in college football history & it has served me well.

The life of a football coach, I loved every minute of it.

Historically, “the grind” is worn like a badge of courage. Stories being told by coaches at the convention about how hard they work and loving every minute of embracing the grind. Legendary grinders like Bill Snyder, Urban Meyer, Nick Saban, Dick Vermeil come to mind.The stories get more and more exaggerated over time by guys that have worked for them.

I’ve had so many friends talk about coaching in the NFL. They have stories about sleeping at the office trying to get an edge on their opponent. They’ve even found themselves falling asleep standing up exhausted and thinking that it just had to be done this way because everyone else was doing it…

My father used to say,

“If your buddy jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, are you going to do that too?”

The Texas State Grind… Lesson Learned

I can remember recruiting as a head coach at Texas State University and flying back from somewhere totally exhausted. I got up, walked down the aisle and literally passed out until the stewardess came to my rescue.

I had been going on 4 hours sleep for months trying to turn around the program and now it all came to this result. My family life was shambles, and all that mattered was winning, filling the stadium and ‘out-recruiting’ rival schools in Texas.

It’s all about “the grind.”

Recently, I read an article about John Harbaugh and his schedule with the Baltimore Ravens. In doing so,my first instinct was…

How can I create the same schedule as John Harbaugh?

Truth be told and I hate to admit it, but I spent a week in the summer creating the same schedule for myself as Coach Harbaugh.

Then, I just kept wondering if this was the only way or if there was another way to be a peak performer and still have some semblance of balance in my life.

Or, was a balance just some type of myth in my chosen profession?

Here’s an example of the glorification of the grind…

Effects of The Grind

This lifestyle is proven as detrimental to optimizing your life. Divorce, ill health and the occasional stress related outbursts are commonplace. And then I wonder, with all this time being put in why do coaches do stupid things on game day?

For instance, on any given weekend clock management and strategic errors are the norm in college and the NFL. You would think that with all this time at the office we would see coaching perfection on game day.

Sadly, this is far from the case.
I was recently watching a Big XII game. The offense scored late in the game and the obvious strategy was to go for two… Yet, the head coach sent out the extra point unit consequently having to blow a critical ‘time-out’ to get the offense back in the game to go for two. How does that happen?

Have you ever noticed the cause and effect of the grind?

Coaches are always putting out fires in their program. Attacking players and staff members on a regular basis. Are we reacting to the demands of the day, or intentionally creating our life? I believe it’s the first instance that is winning out in many programs today.

I think what my friend said is profound…

It’s important that we take responsibility for the results we produce and keep finding a better way.

Conquering the Grind

If there are so few role models in our profession that conquer the grind with a balanced lifestyle, how can we go above the norm?

Here are seven concepts worth considering as you move forward in this crazy business…

  1. Be the CEO of your life.
  2. Set up your calendar by scheduling days to plan, focus and re-charge.
  3. Take an honest look at how much of your day is spent reacting to the demands of the day as opposed to working your plan.
  4. Keep your energy level appropriate for the task, not necessarily with Red Bull.
  5. Use strategies that, ultimately, are not dependent on you. Empower others and technology to help you get things done in alignment with the vision set for the program.
  6. Spend time learning. The top performers in all fields spend uninterrupted time working their craft and often times they learn from other fields of expertise as well as their own.
  7. Keep an eye out for opportunities that will let you upgrade without the normal ‘wear and tear’ of doing it on your own. Throughout my life and in business, there have been numerous opportunities that have allowed me to learn things incredibly fast – without having to waste time doing it the hard way… Without having to spend time and money learning from my own mistakes… etc.

Exercise: Assess your time!

A great way to start the process of conquering the grind is to do a time assessment of your work day for 1 week. In doing so, put together a spreadsheet with the following columns: Time, Action On-Plan, Action Off-Plan. Break up the time segments into 20 minute blocks and check in every segment.

At the end of the day, assess how much of your time is spent working your plan as opposed to distractions and not working your plan. I’ve found this tool very useful in creating my daily routine, something that we will talk about later… What you find out in doing this exercise may surprise you!

Here’s the deal:

I am going to help you in creating strategies to become this ‘new-age’ football coach in future blog posts. Take a look at some of these concepts, give them a try and if they work for you, great. If not, take a look at another theory as you work to create the ‘work – life’ balance that is rare in our profession.

I believe you can happily achieve and live the life you desire by optimizing each aspect of your life.

Let’s sharpen that axe together and move forward!

Talk soon.

Manny

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4 thoughts on “The Grind of Coaching Football

  1. TWO OF THE GREATEST FOOTBALL COACHES OF ALL TIME PAUL BROWN AND CHUCK NOLL LEFT THE OFFICE BY 6 PM. i’M SURE THERE WERE MANY OTHERS AS WELL. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING YOU DON’T HAVE TO SECOND GUESS YOURSELF TILL THE WE HOURS OF THE MORNING. AS A PRO SCOUT, I WOULD SOMETIMES LOOK AT SO MUCH FILM THAT I WAS NO LONGER SEEING THE THINGS THAT I NEEDED TO SEE. AS LOMBARDI SAID, “FATIGUE MAKES COWARDS OF US ALL” AND A LOT OF MISTAKES TOO.

    • Coach, Those are a couple of great examples of success doing it with a balance in life… I think those hall-of-fame coaches have won some championships along the way!

  2. Excellent insight into a trap many coaches fall into leading to burnout…Would be beneficial for many of the coaches following your blog to see how you organize your daily/weekly program management from off-season to in-season with an emphasis on productivity and efficiency.

    • Shawn, It’s that time of year. The number of coaches I hear from regarding the issues they deal with in pressure-packed situations. Glad you enjoyed the post. I will certainly deliver more regarding program management, productivity and efficiency in the near future. Thanks for the input.