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The Emotions of Sports: Sports include lots of stress

Busy schedules, pressure situations and other things affect players and coaches

Posted: August 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 8, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Randy Smith is busy enough as head coach of the West Ranch High girls basketball team. He used to coach the cross country and track and field teams, too.

He stepped down to focus on basketball, and he references a Clint Eastwood line from the 1973 movie “Magnum Force” when explaining why.

“A man’s got to know his limitations,” Eastwood grizzles.

So must athletes and coaches, or else the stress of sports will get to them.

“You want to be out there doing it every single day,” says Valencia High graduate Alex Bishop. “I found a way to split my time and relax every once in awhile.”

Stress can come in different forms, depending on one’s position and level.

For Smith, he coached the girls basketball, cross country and track and field programs simultaneously for two years.

He was very successful at it, too. During that time, he led the girls cross country team to a seventh-place state finish in 2009, coached the school’s first state track and field participant, and went 48-33 with the girls basketball team, including a 19-11 mark in Foothill League play and three playoff berths.

Eventually, the nonstop schedule took its toll.

“The problem with the stress is it really never let up,” Smith says. “Every coach can kind of focus and work hard for a few months, but the way things go nowadays, it seems like there’s always something going on.”

Indeed, high school sports have become year-round affairs, with offseason conditioning and camps littering the schedule.

Those commitments have led to less multi-sport athletes than there were a decade ago. Bishop played both varsity baseball and football while at Valencia, starting at high-profile positions like catcher and quarterback.

He spent almost a decade playing both sports, and he admits he thought about quitting football as an eighth-grader to balance his load, which also included academics and his social life.

“That can be tough for high school kids,” Bishop says. “Fortunately, my friends are the ones who are with me playing football and baseball. That helps and makes it a lot easier.”

Former Major League Baseball player Kevin Millar experienced a different kind of stress. Millar, who spent time playing in the William S. Hart PONY League, played 12 Major League seasons with four different teams, and he was a member of the 2004 Boston Red Sox team that won the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

Millar had to deal with constant scrutiny from media, fans and opponents. He says the difference between the stress of lower level baseball and Major League Baseball is dealing  with failure.

“When you’re an immature kid, you’re still snapping. It gets to you,” Millar says. “The difference is the maturity level and how you deal with failure. Everybody’s a good guy when things are going well. But try to be a good guy when you’re trying to go yard and you’re hitting .180 for the month of May.”

Hart High graduate James Shields, who pitches for the Tampa Bay Rays, says that being a professional athlete brings about more stresses than people realize.

“When I was a little kid, I thought it was just a game, and it is. But there’s definitely a lot of stress levels going on,” Shields says. “I’ve never had this kind of stressful job before. You have 50,000 people watching you. You’re on people’s fantasy teams. You have people worry about whether you’re going to be good. As a player, we love that, but we’re not playing into that. But it’s also a business. We’re out there to win games and win a World Series.”

Coaches have no choice but to keep their composure when things aren’t going well. And that can mean more than just leading by example in game situations.

The coaches are often in charge of the entire program, including the junior varsity and freshman teams, and they’re also in charge of things like fundraising and providing equipment.

In that light, Smith says assistants are crucial to helping a coach avoid stress.

“In cross country, there’s not as much administrative responsibility, simply because there’s not as much equipment. Shoes and shorts? Ready to go,” he says. “But in track, because there are so many events, that’s a sport where having a good staff is really, really key. … Basketball is probably easiest to coach yourself because the numbers aren’t as large.”

Support systems help athletes relieve stress, too.

Bishop was thrust to the forefront of varsity football as a sophomore, when starting quarterback Dominick Solley went down with an injury early in the season. Bishop went 3-0 as a substitute starter, throwing for 684 yards and seven touchdowns with just two interceptions.

“That was definitely a key moment as far as my football career was concerned,” Bishop says. “I was thrown in the fire. Luckily, I had a good group surrounding me. My stress level wasn’t too bad.”

But every athlete and coach has their breaking point when it comes to stress. They can only take on so much responsibility.
As Clint Eastwood said, you’ve got to know your limitations.

“For me, I did it as long as I could,” Smith says, “and I recognized that I had to take a step back.”

Signal Sports Editor Cary Osborne contributed to this story.


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