Balancing family, job is a coach’s toughest juggling act

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The attempt to stay calm and in control often eludes Tricia Alderson.


As head coach of one of the most successful girls softball programs in the state, the veteran Chartiers-Houston High School mentor finds herself often searching for that perfect balance between coaching and family.


With her husband, Dan, at her side as an assistant coach, and two young active daughters, Alderson keeps a close watch on her loved ones. At the same time, she is completely focused on the Bucs’ program and success.


Things get a little crazy, at times.


Eating meals at the right time or the right food is sometimes not possible. The schedule is frantic. The stress is real.


“I try to avoid stressful situations,” she said. “I try to be calm and relaxed at home. It’s not always possible.”


Alderson said her program is always on her mind. She is happy her daughters, Kacie (12) and Kelli (7), have grown up with the program and have accepted that she and Dan are coaches.


“It’s part of their lives,” she said. “From January to the end of the year, it’s very hectic. We try to make time for the family. It is tough as they are involved in their own things, too. Sometimes, I feel they have gotten the short end of the stick. But they are doing OK.”


Before becoming his wife’s assistant, Dan Alderson coached the Chartiers-Houston baseball team.


“There are a lot of angles to this,” he said. “You are dealing with parents on a daily basis. When you want to achieve a certain level, you add stress to yourself. Then once you reach a level, you want to maintain it, and go beyond.


“Our family works together. The support system is strong. It has to be or this wouldn’t work.”


Beth Conway has been instrumental in the football coaching success of her husband, Mike, who after several stints – including as defensive coordinator at Washington and Jefferson College and California University under John Luckhardt – is the head coach at NCAA Division III North Park University.


The couple’s two sons, Dakota and T.D., are starters on the team.


It is truly a family affair.


“The biggest challenge was for me to understand what Mike does and what he needs to be,” she said. “There is day-to-day stress on him, between us and on the family. But we make it work.


“You worry about the end of the season because you’re concerned if there is going to be a move.”


Mike Conway has been around the coaching block. He also was head coach at Olivet Nazarene and an assistant at Purdue, Arkansas State and Geneva.


Beth Conway admits that when the season starts, she essentially is living by herself. She’s come to deal with it.


What still troubles her is the criticism she sometimes hears about her husband’s coaching.


“It has been a privilege to be part of his work and all of what he has done in coaching,” she said. “I get to see the fruit of his labor on game days. If he were a CEO, I couldn’t see his presentations in a boardroom. What he does is out there for anyone to see. Criticism, especially when it becomes personal, is tough to listen to. I realized over the years, most of it is just frustration. Still, it is hard to hear.


“Sometimes criticism of coaches, not necessarily in Mike’s case, is mean and hateful. Most people have no idea what goes into this. You learn to develop thick skin and try not to take it personal.”


Jeff Mountain is entering his 12th season as W&J’s baseball coach.


This season will be his first as a father.


He has a 6-month-old daughter, and while his drive and desire has not changed, his perspective has.


“A lot of my stress comes from within,” said Mountain, who has led W&J to five Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships. “I want to be one of the best at our level. We’re still trying to get there.”


The path will be a bit different now.


“Without a doubt,” Mountain said, “It’s our first child. I have a supportive wife. She was a college athlete and she gets it. But it would not be fair to them for me to be dwelling on baseball at home or talking about it there. My plan is to stay focused at work. I need to time my day better and do it centered on my wife and daughter. I need to keep my job and family time separated. I am still learning how.”


Stress is in the details

Each day is a day to evaluate the talent on his roster and to try and figure out a way to get one of his players into affiliated baseball.


Bart Zeller, the 72-year-old manager of the Frontier League’s Washington Wild Things, said games are the fun part.


Road trips, pitching changes, victory and defeat really don’t stress him.


“To be honest, I feel more stress in the offseason,” Zeller said. “You have to identify players you want and try to sign them. Once the season starts, you are making decisions on players and their futures. Certainly, there is some stress in that.


“My greatest stress is in talking to a player and telling him he is being released. Ultimately, it is our job to help them get into or back into affiliated baseball. Telling a player he is being let go is difficult. It hurts.”


Derek Schooley was given the charge of building a Division I hockey team at Robert Morris University.


The task is monumental. However, Schooley has been successful over the past decade.


Winning games is the most visible way of showing progress. But it’s a work in progress.


Schooley said the desire to be good creates pressure. But the real stress is in recruiting players, going on recruiting trips while attending to his team and program’s needs on a daily basis.


“Recruiting takes a lot out of you,” Schooley said. “You are always concerned with the present but look to the future. That’s why recruiting is tough and difficult. But it is essential to success.”


Teresa Booker is the girls volleyball and boys and girls track and field coach at Washington High School.


“You can plan, you can practice certain things and you can prepare a certain way, but things don’t always turn out the way you want or figured,” she said.


“You pay attention to details and they can create stress. Even when you’re done with one practice or game, you immediately think about the next. It stays on your mind.


“I am used to it. You try to relax and remain healthy.”


Being well

One of the difficult tasks of all coaches is remaining healthy. It is not easy because of the lifestyle, the long hours and the focus and attention to detail that is paramount to success.


Any numbers of coaches have suffered health issues, perhaps related to stress, fatigue and pressure.


To wit:


• In 2010, Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack just hours after a fake field goal gave the Spartans an overtime win over Notre Dame. He had a stent put in a blocked artery near his heart.


• University of Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill has suffered a series of seizures on the sidelines as coach of the Gophers. In 2010 he was hospitalized from dehydration.


• Former NBA Coach George Karl had prostate cancer. He overcame it but in 2010 was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer.


• Urban Meyer resigned as Florida football coach in 2009 after a health scare.


• Former Houston Astros Manager Larry Dierker had a seizure in the dugout in 1999 that left him unconscious. It required emergency brain surgery for a cavernous angioma. He did return to lead his team to the playoffs.


• Dusty Baker, former big-league manager, had an irregular heartbeat in 2012 while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He was hospitalized because of a heart problem.


It is not clear that stress can be attributed to any of those illnesses. It is likely; it was some factor in some of those cases.


Recently retired major-league manager Jim Leyland said he isn’t sure what might cause stress in any person, but it is prevalent in all facets of life, just not sports.


Leyland said he worked out three times a week during the season and tried to get as much sleep as possible.


“It is an everyday grind,” Leyland said. “Your eating habits can get messed up. Sometimes you don’t get a good night’s sleep. You get fatigued. There’s a lot of responsibility.


“I really don’t know about each person. Some of this is genetic. I am not saying stress isn’t part of it. People have heart attacks and health issues every day. In sports, these cases are out there for the whole nation to see. I’m not sure it isn’t any different in sports than in everyday life.”


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