Ten Things I Wish They Told Me Before I Started Coaching

By Mike Scerbo, Assistant Athletic Director for NCAA Compliance and former head women’s lacrosse coach, Duquesne University @CompliantMike

In the spring of 1996 (I know, I’m old) I started my coaching career as an assistant coach at SUNY Oswego. After 21 years, with stops along the way as a head coach at Limestone College, an assistant coach at Ohio State, and finally as a head coach again at Duquesne University, I transitioned into an administrative role. Now as the Assistant AD for Compliance at Duquesne, I look back and wish someone would have shared some nuggets of wisdom before I embarked on my two-decade coaching journey. With that in mind, here are ten things I wish I would have known before the journey began:

   Photo courtesy of Duquesne Athletics Media Relations.
  1. The hours are a little funky – Having been an athlete, I knew coaching would not be a 9-5 job. There are early-morning/late-night practices, night games, and of course weekend work. These thoughts were a given, but as a coach even a 12-hour day (long by most standards) is common place. In coaching you could be on the field recruiting for 12 straight hours and still have work to do once you return to your hotel. You might get on a bus at 6 AM, head to a game and return that same night at 11 PM, only to have to stay in the office to break down film for tomorrow’s practice. 52 weeks in a year mean 52 weekends and coaches work 45 of them! And my friends with office jobs complained when they had to work until 5:30 pm.
  2. I should have bought stock in Panera – Dining on the road is an adventure when you are trying to feed an entire team. There are always arguments on where to go, struggles getting reservations, and of course interesting service. The one thing that was constant was Panera. In 21 years of coaching, I don’t think we made a road trip WITHOUT a Panera stop! We would travel well out of our way for the “You-Pick-Two.” Lunch or dinner, Panera would be the one place everyone would agree on. I finally wised up and got a My Panera Rewards card, but if I had bought their stock when I first started coaching, I could have retired by now (Irony: I am sitting in a Panera as I write this).
  3. Night games are NOT fun – As a player it was always great to play “under the lights.” I am not quite sure why, but the feeling of being on the field with the lights casting their shadows everywhere was exhilarating. As a coach, night games STINK, especially on the road. Let me tell you, the wait is excruciating. You get up for breakfast at 8 AM. Maybe you grab a workout or go over the game plan one more time. Then it’s off to shoot-around. 30-45 minutes of stretching, shooting, and passing before you go to find lunch. Then it’s back to the hotel for guess what, more waiting. 7 PM never comes fast enough!
  4. Bus seats are not comfortable after 30 – When I was younger, sitting on a bus didn’t seem too bad. Even watching my players sleep on a road trip, they seemed comfortable and sometimes it was an effort just to wake them. However, after you turn 30, busses are the last place you want to sleep. Give me a cement floor with a rock as a pillow and I would jump on that before a charter bus. I could never get comfortable and when it came time for the much-needed rest stop, it would take me 15 minutes just to get my knees to work again. Oh, it’s only a 10-hour ride home from Amherst, not a big deal.
  5. Dorms during camp are not the same as dorms while in college – I loved the dorms when I was a student-athlete. Maybe I am different than everyone else, but my roommate and I had a great set-up with our black light, lava lamp, and beads hanging in the doorway! When I had to go home for breaks, I missed the comradery of being on the hall with everyone and the late night pizza deliveries. But staying in a dorm during camp is a completely different experience. The rooms are sparse and barren save the lacrosse bag of clothes and an alarm clock you hope works. And who makes dorms with no air conditioning? Laying in a dorm bed in July with no AC might be just as uncomfortable as that front seat on the charter bus.
  6. Tom Hanks’ line “There’s no crying in baseball!” is relevant in lacrosse – Ok, this might be a guy thing, but in all my years playing lacrosse I cannot recall crying, or any of my teammates crying, after 8th Yes, I shed my fair share of tears in youth sports but once I hit high school, tears were not seen. That is not the case in women’s lacrosse. I bet there were more days with tears than there were without tears. Lose a game: tears; win a game: tears; cut a kid: tears; give her a scholarship increase: tears; bench a kid: tears; give her the first start of her career: tears; senior day: tears (Ok, I have to admit, the last one usually cut both ways).
  7. There is no basketball in the movie Love and Basketball – The title is “Love and Basketball,” so it has to have some sports elements to it, right? NOPE, two scenes with basketball in them and one is the main couple playing PIG in the driveway. Road trip movies were always the worst. I watched movies I thought I would never see. And not just once, but three or four times, sometimes on the same trip! “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days,” tremendous acting, should have been nominated for an Oscar. “She’s the Man,” riveting story of overcoming obstacles in life. It took me a while before I wised up and invented the VETO.
  8. Even though you may recruit from the entire country you only get to visit one or two cities a year – I have coached kids from all over the world; from Seattle to Denver to Australia and Canada. Of course I have had the kids from the hotbeds of Long Island, Syracuse, Philly and Baltimore. But even though I have had kids from all these places, it seemed I always visited the same cities each year. For the longest time, I always seemed to land in Annapolis. Ok, the tournaments might be at different places each year, AACC, Kent Island, the Naval Academy, but it seemed I always went to Annapolis. I landed a kid from Australia once and a friend asked, “wow did you love it down-under?” I said “I don’t know, I saw her in Annapolis” (hope Richmond, VA isn’t growing old!).
  9. Airheads is not just a candy – When I arrived at Ohio State, my only thought to the term “airhead” was the taffy like candy you can find in just about any candy store. On our first road trip that year, that all changed. Come to find out, airheads is a game where you put your head phones on, play the music as loud as possible so you cannot hear yourself, and sing the song while dancing up and down the aisle of the bus. The worst part was, EVERYONE, participated. Let’s just say, after my turn, “Luda” would never be the same again.
  10. The relationships you create are time consuming – For everyone, time is a precious commodity. There are only 24 hours in the day and sleep is required, so there goes a few. I wish I would have known how much of my life would be devoted to the relationships I created with coaches, players, and families. I mean the graduations, the weddings, the birth announcements, the reference calls for the new job, the playdates between my kids and theirs. It is completely overwhelming! And those moments are the best part of the job!
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