Why I Sold Out and Quit Coaching

For a hearty stretch of my life I was a professional rowing coach, from 1999 to 2009, and I coached at places like Duke, Florida Tech, and Louisville. I thought that was going to be my career. I was and am passionate about the sport and passionate about coaching.

My last major stop was the University of Louisville for a single year, where I was an assistant. It was during that season I realized what a bitch of a lifestyle I had. Without burdening the reader with too many details, let’s just say I worked from five in the morning until eight at night (and sometimes later), all week, and for a half day on Saturday. And when I was out recruiting, I also worked on Sundays. I remember once making recruiting calls at 3:00 am. To New Zealand. That might be sort of okay for a) the President of the United States or b) the head football coach of Alabama, but it’s not okay for a scrubby crew coach making $40K a year. I calculated my hourly take once and I think it was fairly close to minimum wage. At least it felt that way.

I made the decision during the season to retire and find a new line of work. I spent many a stressful hour agonizing over that decision, because I was throwing away a decade. My entire network, flushed down the drain. All that expertise, POOF. I had no regular job lined up. I knew I was moving back to Florida and that was it.

I remember the exact moment I decided to call it quits. I was driving around town picking up groceries for the team when I realized I was having trouble seeing. My vision was going in and out of blurriness. I was constantly exhausted from insomnia caused by stress and I said to myself, “What the fuck, I’m 32, I rarely shower, all of my clothes come from the campus bookstore, and I’m having health problems. Fuck this!

Besides the poor economics of being a professional crew coach, another negative is the lack of control you have over your destiny. If you have one bad season, you get fired and then you were at the mercy of a tiny job market. I didn’t like the thought of moving around the country, bouncing from Des Moines to Minneapolis to Davis to somewhere in Long Island. If your head coach got fired, you were out. If your athletes turned on you, you were out. It’s not the kind of gig you can easily build a life on.

After I finally got out, it took me a couple of years to get back on my feet in the web technology industry. While it hasn’t been a perfectly smooth ride, it was one of the smartest decisions I ever made. Making that move has caused an evolution in several areas of my life: my relationships (both business and personal), my personal development, my leadership ability, even in athletics. I spend time working on myself as an athlete and that has been an amazing. I feel like I’ve re-connected with a part of me that was missing for a long time.

I read something recently on Steve Pavlina’s blog called Restoring Hope. The title is a little misleading because it’s not a hardcore article about getting out of hopelessness, but rather about how shedding mediocre relationships can lead to great improvements in your personal and professional life. To summarize heavily, Pavlina says: release the 7 or below relationships (on a scale of 1 – 10) and invite the 9s and 10s. That leads to growth, opportunity, and more happiness. There is some Law of Attraction stuff in there, which I’m beginning to embrace, but that’s the gist of it.

Reading that has been a powerful way for me to evaluate my relationships and examine what I did in the past. It gives me confidence about my approach to life. It allows me to shed some of my merely average relationships and be able to keep a clear conscience when I make those decisions. I don’t feel like I’ve misstepped since I left coaching. I feel like I took a leap and allowed myself to evolve.

I love teaching the sport. I very much enjoyed working with college age athletes, the great majority of whom are intelligent, creative, and interesting people to work with. There are a lot of fun moments and hours in the profession. There were a lot of things in that decade that made me who I am now. I simply outgrew the profession.

Finally, some advice. If you sense that you’re growing away from your old relationships, embrace that and make the jump. That’s life’s way of telling you you’re about to evolve. The 9s and 10s are out there waiting.

This post is dedicated to all my homeys in the coaching world who are still in the game. Much respect.  


  • Stackrunning

    I can relate to this completely.  After 11 years coaching DI track & field, I’m taking that same leap you did.  Thanks for the encouragement!

  • DHelton69

    Well written, enjoyable read!  Thank you for sharing…and good for you…taking that first step in a new direction!  Many never get beyond their misery to even think that something else better could be out there waiting for them once they take the first step.