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Balancing Home And Work - Lessons From A Coach And His Family

Head Football Coach, Randy Edsall
STORRS, Conn. (December 7) -- Much has been written about the stresses of balancing work and family, but for one Connecticut family, that's an especially difficult challenge. From August through February, they share a husband and dad with 98 other men.

UConn football coach Randy Edsall and his wife, Eileen, have been managing this balancing act for over 18 years and both seem comfortable making it work. "I knew from the beginning what I signed on for," says Eileen, a 41-year-old former college student-athlete who met Randy when both were at Syracuse University. "You know when you marry a coach that you'll have to be independent and that you'll have a lot of time to yourself. But it's all we've ever known, so it doesn't seem unusual to us. All of us in the family understand the commitment it takes. We understand that his job is particularly demanding in terms of time and flexibility. Any relationship is give and take, but our family has to do more than the average one to work around his schedule during the season."

For Coach Edsall, the season starts in August when the freshman players come in for their first practice. Between then and the end of February (when recruiting ends) he often puts in seven-day weeks. Between September and mid-November, those weeks can also include sleeping in the office on Saturday nights so he can be there when the tapes of Saturday's game arrive early Sunday morning. "If we've got an away game, by the time we get home it's 2:00 or 3:00 a.m. and the tapes come in around 6:00 a.m.," he says. "I need to go over them and plan for the next week. If I don't, I'm behind. So staying in the office Saturday night is the sensible thing to do for the job."

Of course the downside of that job decision is that he often doesn't see his ten-year-old daughter, Alexi, and eight-year-old son, Corey, from Friday night until after a Monday night radio show. "I do feel like a single parent during the season, " Eileen says. "But, now that they aren't playing weekly games, the hours aren't quite as extensive."

"The biggest downer of this job is that I have missed some of my kids' growing up," says Randy. "As a coach, there's a frustration that sometimes you aren't able give your children what you give to other people's kids."

How do Randy and Eileen stay close and keep Randy as a part of the children's lives, especially during the height of the season? They work at it. "We both have our priorities straight," says Randy. "When I'm not working, I'm taking every minute to be with my family. We purposely don't maintain a heavy social schedule so that any free time we have can be spent together."

The Edsalls offer some suggestions to any families trying their best to maintain a busy life and keep their lives together:

Have realistic expectations. Know what is and is not flexible in the other's work life. "Any relationship is give and take, so make sure you understand what that involves and can live with it as it stands," advises Eileen.

Be flexible and work together to make things work. "You've got to be willing to be flexible and work together to deal with situations that come up. You have to be understanding about the things your spouse can't control," points out Eileen.

Make important decisions together. Just because one spouse is more involved with the home, doesn't mean that the other should be shut off from important personal decisions. "It's easy to say 'I'm in charge at home because I'm here more often.' But, it's a bad idea. You can't take away the decision-making process at home or you grow apart and the other person feels disconnected from the household," says Eileen.

Use technology to stay close. While some people complain that mobile phones and pagers rob them of privacy, busy families can use them as tools in their personal lives. "The mobile phone's the best thing that's happened to our family," says Randy. "My 10-year-old knows my mobile phone number and calls me as soon as something exciting happens in her life. For people like me who spend a lot of time on the road, it also simplifies life. It means your family doesn't have to keep track of multitudes of hotel numbers."

"We live on the phone," says Eileen. "We talk on the phone a couple of times a day and make sure to inform each other of decisions we make. Our communication is good because we make it a point to share as much as we can, even if it's not face-to-face."

Stay ahead of the game. Do what you can at the office to maximize the time you spend at home. "Don't lose track of the fact that your family is your first priority," says Randy. "Do what you can to get things done in the office to free up some time at home. For me, it's doing things like bringing game tapes home. Then, I can work on them there which allows me to spend time with the kids before they go to bed and look in on them when they are asleep. I make it a point in terms of planning to do things like that."

Understand that younger children may "act out." While adults can be flexible about long periods away from each other, Eileen cautions that younger children sometimes use their actions to tell you they are not happy about it. "When Corey was younger that was a problem," she remembers. "Randy would be home all summer and Corey got used to spending time with him. When Randy would go back to work at the end of the summer, Corey would misbehave. Now that's he's older, he's better able to handle it, but back then he didn't understand. Parents have to know that those are the times when children need some extra support and to be prepared for it. It passes as they age."

Don't bring work stresses home with you. A clean mental break between home and work is critical to making any relationship work. "You've got to keep the job at the job," says Eileen. "That's hard to do when you're involved in something that's personally involving, like coaching. But, Randy's been coaching for 20 years and, like any experienced professional, he's learned to deal with his share of disappointing losses. The key is keeping them in perspective and not taking them out on your family."

"This season was a tough one," points out Randy. "But, I've been through this before and I know the ups and downs of establishing a young team. As the process goes forward, I know from experience that I have to keep my perspective. I keep the job in the office. I don't come home and be nasty towards my family because things didn't work on a Saturday afternoon."

He says his children do a terrific job helping him keep things in perspective. "You see your kids and you forget what happened," he says. "They still love you no matter what happens on Saturday. We've seen others in this profession who are so intense that they get their kids all up-tight about the games. That doesn't do anyone any good."

Avoid taking yourself too seriously. Professionals are used to people calling on them at work for all the answers, but that's not how it works at home. While the players on his team may look to Coach Edsall for answers on the field, he knows that's where that attitude belongs. "I'm not a know-it-all and I don't have all the answers," he says. " I keep things in perspective. I'm still the same person whether the team wins or loses Eileen and I have been around athletics long enough to understand that."

Avoid becoming a work-a-holic. With an all-absorbing job, it's easy to work all the time and forget to do anything else. "A lot of people miss the boat on this one," he says. "They work 365 days a year and lose their families in the process. Coaches are as guilty of this as any other high-stress profession. When there's time available, I'll drop everything and do something with the family. This season, for example, we had a week off during October. I made sure not to take those as work days. I put all my focus and attention on my family."

Bring the lessons of the job home to your children. The lessons that come from engaging in an all-encompassing profession can be valuable to children. "Randy really loves what he does and I think that sends a strong message to our kids that you should do what you love and find some way to make a living at it," says Eileen. "His work ethic also teaches them the lesson that hard work and patience can make good things happen. Those are two important lessons for them to learn."

Asked to give some final words of guidance to families trying to balance home and work, the Edsalls give these suggestions:

From Randy: "Be organized and well-prepared and you can balance all aspects of your life."

From Eileen: "Never take each other for granted."

Randy Edsall recently completed his second year as Head Coach of the UConn Huskies. The team finished its inaugural year in Division I-A with a 3-8 record. The State of Connecticut broke ground for the Huskies' new 40,000 seat football stadium at Rentschler Field in October. This state-of-the-art facility will feature stadium seating, indoor and outdoor club seating and 40 luxury suites. UConn will play its first game at Rentschler Field against Rutgers on August 30, 2003. For season ticket information for the 2001-2002 football season or other UConn athletic events, call 1-877-At-UCONN.