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For some coaches, the challenges are different

There are some men and women who have to make a different kind of sacrifice to lead a sports program

Posted: July 29, 2009 10:41 p.m.
Updated: July 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Walk-on coaches are not in an ideal situation.

They don’t just break down plays, evaluate talent and lead their teams to a championship.

The life of a walk-on coach, one who is not employed as a teacher or staff member at the school they coach at, can be difficult as they attempt to balance their career and the responsibility of teaching impressionable student-athletes.

“You have to still be able to put the time in, especially if you are a varsity coach,” says former Golden Valley head girls basketball coach James Wilson. “You have to put the time in required to give your program a chance to compete. That can be really challenging. It wears on your family.”

Wilson resigned on Feb. 27 from his post with the team, citing — among his reasons — the challenges associated with being an off-campus coach.

Indeed, there are many challenges, and it begins with the simple fact that the walk-on coach does not work on school grounds.

“Being able to be right there on campus and know of changes coming up (is advantageous),” says Sean O’Connell, the head girls soccer coach at Valencia High. “There are issues with regard to use of facilities and access to facilities — getting keys to unlock the stadium. Once I was at Valencia for a few years that kind of all changed.”

O’Connell credits his administration, particularly athletic director Brian Stiman, for keeping him in the loop and working to ensure his success.

Hart head softball coach Steve Calendo, who is a lawyer, says the key to success is simple.

“I think the communication — open communication — and I also think these days, in the use of computers, modern technology makes things easier,” he says. “It is like being there (on campus).”

Wilson also works in Glendale, though he lives in Castaic.

“You have the commute and you have to get to practice and there is a traffic jam,” Wilson says, painting the picture of a common hurdle walk-on coaches have to overcome. “You have to have a strong support system to help cover each other.”

The balance can be a difficult one.

Sometimes the classic 9-to-5 job doesn’t allow for flexibility.

Therefore, how does one weigh the need to provide for their family and make sure they fulfill the commitment made to their team?

Two things.

First, the employer has to be on board going in.

O’Connell says management at his place of business, Team Legal, Inc. — a legal services company, allowed him to work a provision for coaching into his contract.

Wilson also says his job allowed him to come in early to provide him more access to his team, but that can ultimately lead to even less time with loved ones.

That brings about the second factor.

The family has to be on board, because the need to provide for one’s family is more than just monetary.

The time commitment can be immense, not just during the season, but when it comes time for summer camps and other offseason programs.

The support from family is critical.

“My family backs me up 100 percent,” says former Hart and current Golden Valley girls soccer coach Jose Leon, who is now semi-retired after working in the hotel and roofing industry while coaching.

In fact, last year, Leon’s daughter Nicole was the junior varsity coach at Hart, while a second daughter, Gabby, was the junior varsity coach at Golden Valley.

There has to be a passion for the sport, and therefore, a
passion for the athlete.

And coaches do what they have to do to make it work.

“I wouldn’t call them sacrifices,” Calendo says. “I do enjoy it, so you make adjustments. Sometimes my law practice gets a little haywire and I have go back and forth, but that’s the way it goes.”

That makes things more complicated.

On-campus coaches generally use a seventh period to work with their players.

That also gives the coach the ability to become integrated into the school setting.

“You get more of a feel for the students and being part of that whole environment,” Calendo says. “I think it is part of the advantage of being a coach, being a part of the school environment.”

However, there is a flip side when it comes to the frustrations associated with being off-campus.

“As the head coach you have to make the hard decisions — set the roster, sign the cut letter,” O’Connell says. “Getting too close could cloud your judgment as to what is best for the relationship and what is good for the program. Sometimes the separation is probably a positive.”


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