The life of a collegiate student-athlete is a busy one. Between schoolwork, practice and being able to compete in games, there is plenty to occupy the mind. Enter a coach. There to guide a student-athlete through any problem as a role model and as a friend.
It’s not the easiest job, especially for someone like Scot Loeffler. The first-year head coach of the football program oversees more than 100 players. That’s 100+ athletes to develop professional relationships with and 100+ students to develop emotional relationships with.
With so many people to connect with, the daunting task is counted on to be a team effort. Assistant coaches and coordinators are just as important to the relationship student-athletes share with their sport — in this case, football.
Loeffler shares that being able to connect with a student-athlete off the field is crucial.
“That’s where the trust and relationship that’s built outside the building occurs. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter what your age is — everyone has something going on,” Loeffler said.
No matter the issue, coaches are insistent that student-athletes come to them to help sort things out. Coaches want to be there for their players, and from a student-athlete perspective, trust is just as important.
Darius Wade came to BGSU at the request of Loeffler. The duo previously collaborated at Boston College, and just when Wade thought his football days were done he received an invitation to join the Falcons. He knew he could trust Loeffler.
“Trust. That’s probably one of the biggest factors. Just knowing that he’s going to put you in a good position and that he can trust you to then execute the job… and then there is some semblance of friendship. You still have to enjoy their company and be around them,” Wade said.
Anyone can express a need for trust in a relationship, but the other party needs to be prepared for reciprocity. Any relationship with as much passion as those involved in sports is going to need support.
“The whole key to it, in my opinion, is getting your student-athlete to tell you (what they’re going through). Because there’s a lot of times that you don’t know, and you’re criticizing for not performing but you don’t understand the reason why,” Loeffler said.
Sometimes it comes down to spending the right amount of time with a coach in order to develop a quality relationship on and off the field. Wade had gone through two offensive coordinators at Boston College before connecting with Loeffler, but each one was gone after one year.
With Loeffler, Wade has someone he knows has gone through plenty of experiences and can share with him details about his position. His craft is a complicated one that relies on trial and error. Loeffler can teach him how to not make the same mistake twice.
What happens when a coach can’t provide that type of communication in-game? The emotional relationship grows even stronger.
Roger Mazzarella, former BGSU rugby head coach, has bonded with thousands of student-athletes who have come through his program. They have stayed connected with him and each other in what Mazzarella describes as a cult-like fashion.
In rugby, the concept of a coach who is on the sidelines and involved in the general strategy is relatively new. Players and captains are often the ones calling the shots on the field and in practice.
“That’s a good thing for rugby. We are probably way more emotionally and socially involved with the players than most coaches,” Mazzarella said.
This increases the chances that a player would come to him or anyone on staff with a non-rugby related issue. Mazzarella insists that players and coaches are seen as equals, meaning they are more likely to disclose information or even consider going to a coach with a personal problem.
“I think it’s important for the health of the team,” Mazzarella, who has admittedly thought a lot about the subject, said. “There’s a certain part about the club aspect (of BGSU rugby). You haven’t got a whole bunch of people doing stuff for you. You have to do it … That’s why we’re opposed to being a varsity sport. We’d like more financial or administrative things, but we wouldn’t want to be a varsity sport where everybody does everything for you.”
This, as Mazzarella or anyone who has been involved with the rugby program will say, has created a foundation of alumni that are now willing to do anything to help their team. Some are even volunteering as scouts in their spare time, hoping to convince any potential recruit to join a life changing experience.
The relationship between coaches and student-athletes starts as soon as the two are introduced. Whether it is rugby, football or any sport on campus, building a relationship with a coach is a reason some players will come to certain schools over others.
“Gosh, some of the quarterbacks I’ve recruited, I’ve recruited since they were a (high school) freshman. So you know them inside and out by the time you get them,” Loeffler said.
The same can be said for any sport on campus. The relationship players gain with coaches or teammates can only be replicated in few places. There may be a lot going on when it comes to juggling school work and athletics, but the communication and passion for each other is almost forced.
“In this program, over time, you know each other better. You’ve got better relationships and whenever you’re asked to do something really hard, you understand why as a player. And then I can understand the player better,” Loeffler said.