Sam Nahrgang, NAIT Ooks Athletics
Being a head coach at the post-secondary level can be described as more of a lifestyle than a job. The hours are long, you are never off the clock, the highs are euphoric, and lows are stressful. At the end of the day, the passion for the game, the rewarding feeling of watching student-athletes develop as both players and people can't be replicated anywhere else. Sure, winning is the ultimate goal; you can't find a coach anywhere in the world who doesn't like to win. The fact is you don't always win on the scoreboard, but that isn't the reason these coaches coach.
A head coach takes on varying roles in a student-athletes life which leads to a unique relationship that sees up's and down's, but is made up of friendship, respect, mentorship, discipline, and much more.
For most coaches, recruiting never stops; they are constantly in contact with prospective student-athletes, whether it be talking to parents, other coaches, or the athletes themselves. From September to March a coach on average may have about six weekends where they aren't competing. Some coaches will choose to go to tournaments to scout and recruit in person; some may choose to stay home and spend that time to catch up with their families. If that's the case, you can bet they are still sneaking away to their phones and computers when they can to stay on top of the process. Although some recruiting gets done during the season (September-March), most of the recruiting gets solidified in the early spring and through the course of the summer.
It is not as simple as getting an athlete to play for a team; the coaches are looking for student-athletes, young adults who can succeed both in competition and in the classroom. They are looking for well-rounded individuals who will wear the Ooks logo with pride, give back to the community, and be a valuable addition to the program and NAIT.
Recruiting takes time. Coaches need to convince the student-athlete to come to play for the Ooks; then they need to find a program for them. Sometimes this can be easy, and the student already knows what they want to do. In most cases, however, the coach will be helping the student pick a program, or mapping out a personalized plan to get into a program that they want to take. Once that is done, they walk them through the application process, which can sometimes be very daunting for students, especially international students looking to come to Canada for the first time. After applying, some recruits may not be accepted to their program of choice; so then it's back to the drawing board to adjust the plan so that student can get to where they want to be academically and professionally.
The recruiting phase of a coach's life has completely different stress than the competition phase; they are fighting with other schools to bring the best student-athletes to their institutions. During any step of the phase, whether it be convincing, finding a program, the application process, or just waiting for the student-athlete to make that first payment, they could leave and commit to another school with the snap of their fingers. If that doesn't seem stressful, most coaches will bring in 5-10 recruits a year, which means they spend a lot of their summers on their phones and computers, in constant contact with these prospective student-athletes.
Coaches are also in constant communication, trying to get their current student-athletes in new programs following the completion of their first program, a year of open studies or academic upgrading. Some student-athletes will play five years for the Ooks.
While wrapping up the season, coaches then get to spend a month ironing out the schedule for the next year. Not only do they need to talk to other schools about exhibition games, but they also plan out every aspect of the upcoming year from meetings to practices, to games including travel times, accommodations', etc. Then they work with the athletes to ensure they are trying their best to not have evening or Friday afternoon classes, to avoid having to miss school or team functions.
The coaching aspect of being a coach is perhaps the most time-consuming. Throughout the summer they are running different sessions for their players to come out once an a while and get work in, they are coaching in the sports camps while trying to get ready for the grind of the season.
As soon as September hits they begin their practices and getting ready for the season. This means most days they are coming into the office and prepping for either practice and games by breaking down game film and meeting with players. Then they are usually practicing at 4:30 pm at the earliest sometimes and as late as 9:00 pm from Monday to Thursday, which means they are usually at work until around 8:00 pm every night on average. When the weekend hits they will either find themselves playing a home and home with a team or they will be gone for the entire weekend coaching most nights until 10:00 pm. Following each game, they go home to break down game film or do it on the bus ride home to ensure they are ready for the next day. This weekly cycle continues for the majority of the school year.
A student athlete's day consists of usually class all-day followed by practice, and then home to do homework or sleep, leaving little time to do other things. Que in the coach, not only are they recruiting, planning, and coaching. They are also life and academic counselors. Each coach has 15-25 students who come to them with everything from life problems to academic issues. When a coach walks into a student's home and convinces the athlete and their family to come to their school, they feel responsible for helping them succeed in any way necessary. The student-athlete also tends to lean on their coaches because the coach for them is the closest thing authority figure that they have in their life. They spend so much of their time together that they learn to grow and trust that coach, so a lot of the time a student-athlete will reach out to their coach before a teammate, a parent, or a student counselor.
It's tough to write an article describing the time and effort it takes to be a full-time post-secondary coach. There are no days off, 365 days a year they are accessible to either their current players or prospective players. They have very understanding and supportive families, who understand the time and passion it takes to be a successful coach.
Being a full-time coach is not just a job; it is a lifestyle. A lifestyle that, although is demanding, is very rewarding. Coaches coach not only for the love of the sport but for the satisfaction of watching high schools recruits grow into well-rounded individuals ready for the workforce, due to the holistic educational experience gained from being a student-athlete.