Manny Matsakis

Is Life Balance Possible Coaching Football?

Creating a Balanced Life In a High Pressure World

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In 2003, I took over the reigns of the football program at Southwest Texas State University and what happened in that year changed the course of my coaching career. In that one year, a balance was non-existent as I was obsessed with turning around the fortunes of this I-AA program in San Marcos, Texas. I used an approach that we had implemented at Texas Tech, and I had learned from my mentor Bill Snyder at Kansas State. I hired an excellent coaching staff (Pictured in the image above right; clockwise: Myself, Frank Hernandez – WR’s, Ron Roberts – DC, D.J. Eliot – LB’s, Chris Stacey – FBO, Louie Matsakis – STC, Darrin Hicks – RB’s, Clancy Barone – OL/OC, Not in Picture: E.K. Franks – DL)   and we embarked on a 5-year plan which I had documented in a 240-page manual. I was sure that this method would put us at the top of the Southland Conference. That year was a blur.

Balance; A Failed Attempt…

This master plan was very aggressive in part because I believed that the University was considering a move up to the I-A level. The underlying drive of the scheme was laid out in the concept of “Fill the Stadium,” and everything we did was aligned with the mission to fill our stadium.

We felt that to accomplish this we would work internally and externally to fulfill our mission.

Inside the program, our staff created an approach to improve our players with peak performance mental state training. We also hired a top strength coach Nick Kyros (Nick had worked at Alabama in Track & Field and Football for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant) to develop our player’s physical bodies and athleticism on the field. Then our entire coaching and support staff was trained in the Egoscue Method, which is a physical therapy designed to align player’s bodies for the rigors of football.

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We made progress as our team gained confidence, ran faster and became better football players. The Egoscue Method reduced our injury rate with a proactive approach to the game.

Externally, we started with a re-branding of the football program. I was enlisted to help in changing the name of the University to Texas State University, and this before the season. We also aided in the creation the new Bobcat logo with a Texas State student, which is still used today.

Our public relations strategy involved promoting the program statewide and in our community. Our coaches would regularly go out on campus and support the vision of Texas State Football. Student participation was paramount, so we created a unique weekly television show that was a football version of the Tonight Show.

This was fun, but it was also labor intensive for our coaching staff.

Season Tickets were vital to filling the stadium, and I created a marketing group of 100 students that would help to promote the upcoming season. Together, we had put together a strategy to put fans in the stadium as we went into that summer.

We placed an assistant athletic director in charge of following through with that plan. I regret that to this day…

A month into the summer, I met with the assistant athletic director to check on the progress of the season ticket program. Much to my surprise, I realized that there had been no progress toward season tickets, and we were approaching the season. What I did next, I am not proud of…

In the confines of my office, I was so upset about the lack of commitment to the plan that I verbally attacked the work ethic I noticed in this gentleman. I realized after this outburst that I had done what I knew not to do… I made an enemy for the program.

In building a football program, it’s about making friends for the program – but in my unbalanced state this was the result.

A few months later, I was haunted by my childish outburst.

I decided that to have success in our inaugural season at Texas State University, we had to create a foxhole mentality. I withdrew from all peripheral areas and focused heavily on the task at hand…

That Fall, we had made significant progress in executing this master plan to the point that we concluded the season as #1 in Total Offense & Passing Offense in the Southland Conference (#8 in the nation). We steadily improved our attendance due to tremendous student support. In fact, in our last game versus Sam Houston State, we defeated the Bearkats in front of a packed house, and we had only won 4 games that season!

I realized there was more to filling the stadium than just winning… There are programs everywhere that win yet do not fill their stadium.

"The #1 priority of a head football coach is to fill their stadium."

That evening after our final game, I felt we had established ourselves to be a contender in the upcoming season. We set out to sign some outstanding players and our staff just kept “burning the midnight oil” as we out-recruited many of the mid-major I-A teams in our state.

What happened next “rocked my world”…

As we approached signing day, allegations were coming across my desk of what was deemed minor violations regarding the 20-hour rule. Our athletic trainer supported a difference of opinion that the Egoscue Method we used to help players align their bodies counted in our 20 hours per week maximum allotment. According to this, we were over the limit by 2 hours per week. Other bizarre inquiries kept showing up as we were recruiting a banner class.

I just stayed focused on signing an outstanding recruiting class.

Then on January 28th, 2004, I got a call from the Vice President saying that they fired my athletic director (Greg LaFleur) and an hour after that, our staff had been let go… One week before signing day.

I was burned out, felt jaded, and could not understand that there had not been any communication regarding all these allegations. I was kept out of the loop during the season as various reports were being filed.

I decided to leave the profession because I felt that I needed a break from football. My marriage was a wreck, I rarely saw my children, I had lost 20 pounds, and this was all I had to show for my 100% commitment to Texas State University.

I am still grateful to Texas State for that opportunity to test out my plan. I know I’ve become a much better coach from that experience.

I had no idea of what balance was let alone how to achieve it while coaching football.

Balance; Defining the Concept

Many times in our profession, we never really get a hold of this thing called balance. Is there such a thing as life balance in coaching? Yes, there is, but it depends on how you define it.

I think that a lot of times coaches believe life balance means you can evenly distribute your time & energy to your work and personal life. That’s not the case in our profession.

My definition of balance is spending the appropriate amount of time in each of the major categories of life, so you’re in balance. That looks different in different seasons. Each part of the year is different for football coaches. In fact, you’re never going to be entirely balanced, but it’s always going to be this back-and-forth flow if you will.

There are three vital aspects of balance

Balance is not the same as rest.

Usually when coaches talk about how they need more balance, what they’re saying is, “I have to get some sleep. I’m worn out, and I need some rest.” I think that if you’re in balance, you’re getting an appropriate level of rest, but it’s not the same as balance.

If you told me you were out of balance, I might say to you, “Well tell me about your rest. What are you doing to rejuvenate? How much are you sleeping every night?” A football coach can still be getting rest and not be balanced, but that’s the first place to start.

Rest is like a piece of the whole “balance” puzzle, but it’s not “balance” in its entirety. Rest is the first and most important thing. In fact, if you’re not getting enough rest it will lead to a lack of productivity and creativity. It’ll result in not being focused and a lack of performance in preparing your team.

Balance is ever-changing.

There have been numerous times when I’ve been out of balance as a football coach. There are so many times I’ve had to give a lot of attention to projects at different times of the year. My solution to this workflow is to create a plan for recovery time. This arrangement enables me to act in a mode of “surge and rest.”

For example, if I’ve done a training camp installation for several days in a row, then I plan a free day or two, so I can just rest and recover. This method will counterbalance that work with an opportunity to rest and recover. It’s kind of a dynamic relationship between the two, a yin and yang so to speak.

Balance has to be created.

In other words, like so much of life, it’s a caused thing. It’s not just going to show up on your doorstep and say, “Here I am, I am in balance.” You have to make it happen with appropriate planning. I think that begins with your intention to create something different.

Balance; An Action Plan

Balance is achievable, and it starts with a clear focus on what that will look like in that time of the year or season of your life. That “balance” would be intentionally having time for each area of your coaching life. From recruiting, player development, teaching, professional development, family, exercise just to name a few.

Here is how I am intentional about creating and designing my life.

I start with a calendar and lay out a 5-year plan, then I take a look at my 2-year plan and work myself to the year’s calendar.

In dealing with my next year, I will break it up into the seasons that make sense for coaching football. In college, it will have the following areas: Recruiting, Professional development, Player development, vacation and the season. I believe that there has to be intention around my yearly schedule regarding how I want to have the balance on an annual scale.

Then it’s time to drill down even deeper into each segment of the year. At this point, I break up everything at 6-week intervals for significant projects. This routine ultimately comes down to my weekly and daily planning sequence. The key is to create an ideal week, so I can set myself up for success daily.

I believe that a football coach has to “win the day” within alignment to his master plan. It’s easy just to have a great day but if it doesn’t align with the compass you’ve set up then you are wandering throughout the wilderness, and you never get to where you’d like to go.

Balance Feels Like Imbalance!

Balance Feels Like Imbalance. In fact, real balance to attain your goals is similar to standing in a canoe. Always correcting, adjusting, and moving around. It may feel like you are off-balance, but in fact, you are on-balance. If you stay perfectly still, you will fall into the water.

Exercise: Conquering Exhaustion

There are some means of recovering your enthusiasm for work, and it’s very simple and easy to understand. As simple as the following exercise may be, do not underestimate its power.

The nature of coaching football is such that it is prevalent for you to have to deal with resulting introversion as well as extroversion. Introversion means “looking in too closely.” Extroversion means nothing more than “being able to look outward.”

A typical example of how you can become introverted follows:

You spend hours upon hours watching the video of practice, then scouting the opponent, creating reports all in front of a computer at your desk… We have all been there. Just focusing on what is right there in front of us. It almost feels claustrophobic. At the end of the day, you are spent… Exhausted.

An example of how you can become extroverted follows:

You are talking to students, recruiting, dealing with players, parents, and boosters. You put yourself out there to build the football program with speaking engagements and various appointments. At the end of the day, you are spent… Exhausted.

Notice that in each case, exhaustion sets in and it’s not necessarily due to the long hours it’s because of the state that type of interaction creates.

So, here’s a solution to handle each of those conditions.

If you get introverted, take a walk. This process is straightforward to perform.

When you feel tired upon finishing your work you should go outside and take a walk. Walk until you feel rested. In short, walk around and look at things and notice what you probably don’t usually see. Check out the leaves on the trees, birds chirping and anything else that comes of interest.

Walk through your exhaustion. It’s not the exercise that makes this happen it’s that you are unfixing your attention from your work to the external world. This works, trust me, it’s a near cure-all.

If you get extroverted, get out and look people over.

If you’ve been talking to people all day, recruiting, selling the program or just handling people who are challenging to manage all day, the wrong thing to do is to run away from all the people there are in the world.

The cure for this is very straightforward. You should go to a place that is well populated – a shopping mall per se – and walk around just noticing people. Merely look at people, that is all. After a while – you will feel people aren’t so bad. You’ll see that you have a much better attitude toward them. More importantly, the condition of becoming over-strained with people tends to go away if you make a practice of doing this at the end of the day.

One final note. Balance is not a pipe dream. It’s something that is attainable. It’s something you’ll have to keep working at for the rest of your life, but it is achievable. The real question is, “Do you want it?” If you do, you can set your intention and begin to move toward it.

I am here to help you develop new strategies to create the life you want coaching football. 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 some others as you work to establish 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 work together to Propel Yourself to Raise Others to Extraordinary Levels!

Comment Below

Are there other ways you like to avoid being too introverted or extroverted? How do you keep balanced in your life and career?

Leave a reply and let me know!

4 thoughts on “Is Life Balance Possible Coaching Football?”

  1. Great insight on finding balance in your personal life while working to put a championship caliber product on the field. Your ideas on creating balance in your life as a coach are refreshing to hear from a coach who has enjoyed as much success as you have.

    Would like to see more insight into your program development. I know many of the coaches who visit this site who are high school head coaches would benefit from seeing your “program vision” that you used while coaching at the High School Level at Enka High School. Would probably be a benefit to coaches who are currently pursuing head coaching opportunities at other schools and looking for some insight into how you organized your overall program at the High School level.

    1. Shawn,
      Everything you ask for is coming in the near future. A few things that are worth keeping in mind as the season is finishing for both high school & college coaches in pursuing opportunities this off-season.
      1. Personal Development is crucial in order to be set up for a successful campaign in your next opportunity.
      2. Planning and creating a master plan is very important to sell when the opportunity arrives for an interview. (Program Vision is certainly a part of the process.)
      3. You must differentiate yourself from the competition based on your strengths.
      As we all know, the challenge of every opportunity is different and not everyone is the “right” guy for every job.
      A search firm once told me, “A coach’s experience in either turning around a losing program or winning at a place that has already been successful are paramount to the process of hiring a head coach.”
      A current example would be the latest hire at the University of Wyoming. They hired arguably one of the “hottest” coaches in the nation to a school that needed a turnaround. Problem was that the coach’s previous school was always a winner with all the resources in place. I could be wrong about this one, yet this formula from a top search firm seems to bear out year after year…
      All of this applies to the high school level as well. It is important to set yourself up for success based on your strengths.
      To our readers, “What type of experience are you creating in your current position? Who is your mentor in developing that experience, and is he the best role model you can work with at this time?”
      Best wishes,

    1. Coach, It’s certainly about choice and we all have control over what we choose to focus on and create. In this profession we are mentoring all of the time. Football is the greatest game in the world and an opportunity to instill one’s values occurs daily.

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