A Balancing Act

NEW ULM – New Ulm girls soccer coach Jonathan Johnson is used to having a busy fall schedule in which doing a balancing act between family life, coaching and working a full-time job gets to be a bit chaotic.

But honestly, he would have it no other way. Nor would Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s football coach Brent Kucera, who also has a full-time job at Mathiowetz Construction during the day, then heads over to St. Mary’s for football practice or gets his team ready for a game.

The two coaches have been very successful at their coaching jobs. Johnson has a career record of 63-30 as of Sept. 23 and Kucera is 25-11 as of Sept. 23, including two state tournament trips (2011, 2012).

Jonathan Johnson, Girls Soccer, New Ulm High School

Johnson has been the head coach of the New Ulm girls varsity soccer team for five years. He’s been involved with the New Ulm Soccer Association for 15 years and prior to being the head coach, he was the Junior Varsity coach for the Eagles.

When he’s not coaching, he has a full-time job outside of District 88 as a mechanic at 3M. The rotating shifts are challenging enough for anyone, but for someone who has to coach a varsity high school sport, it sometimes involves finding someone to work his afternoon shifts when needed.

“With the rotating shift at work, I’m fortunate enough that they’re pretty flexible with the hours,” Johnson said. “There’s another mechanic that will cover my afternoons.”

It doesn’t happen too often where he has problems getting out of work to coach.

“It happens about three times during the entire season,” he said. “It still can be a challenge to find someone to cover for you.”

Johnson and Kucera are just two of the many varsity coaches in the area who balance a busy schedule and coaching. Often times it’s a challenge to find coaches who are also teachers, so districts are forced to look outside of the school to find someone willing to put in the effort.

“A head coach can easily spend 3-4 hours a day on their activity,” New Ulm Athletic Director Chad Eischens said in an email. “Between practices, games, planning, scouting, communications, travel…it all adds up and can be overwhelming and stressful on families. We have coaches that get off of work and the put on their coach hat and also coaches that work with kids and then to their ‘real’ job.”

Some of the coaches who aren’t full-time with their school district may be at a disadvantage when it comes to relating with the students. Coaches who are employed by their respective school district see students pass by in the halls or may even have them in class. Those outside of the district have to wait until practice or game-time.

Because he’s not a full-time teacher with the district, Johnson said there are times he sees his student-athletes off the field and doesn’t recognize them at first.

“I see them every day at practice and they’ve got their hair tied up in a bun, or a pony tail, and then I see them out on the street and their hair is down and I gotta look twice,” he said. “I think ‘I should know that person.'”

While he’s busy during the fall season, coaching high school soccer does come with plenty of rewards.

“The biggest reward for me is seeing the kids playing and enjoying themselves, Johnson said. “Win, lose or draw, it really doesn’t matter to me. Of course you want to win, but that’s not always the outcome. But if they’re giving 100 percent and actually enjoying what they’re doing…they want the opportunity to play more than anything.”

Johnson has two daughters that have played for him. Of course that was also a challenge because he wanted his daughters to be successful and he found himself being hard on them sometimes.

“To me that’s a huge challenge, coaching your own child,” Johnson said. “A lot of coaches, they talk about their son or daughter gets treated better or worse because they’re harder on them. Me, I think I was harder on my youngest daughter because she didn’t get by with anything.

“You gotta draw that line between family and team, and you gotta remember that they’re [his daughters] in both of those categories,” Johnson said. “It’s pretty hard.”

For Eischens, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the school district to hire coaches. It’s even more difficult to find a teacher who also is willing to be a coach, so the search becomes a tough task.

This, of course, means hiring outside of the district. According to Eischens, New Ulm High School currently has 21 head coaches for athletics and 11 of those coaches are employed by the school district for their primary job.

“Without question – we were fortunate to hire a number of teachers this year that are willing to coach and advise various activities,” Eischens said. “We’ve done a better job of asking candidates if and what activities they would be willing to help out with. With that said, teachers are hired to teach first and foremost. That needs to be their priority. If they can coach, that’s an extra benefit to our school.

“We take an aggressive approach to recruitment,” Eischens said. “Our coaching and advising jobs go on a number of education based and university job boards to head coaches. I often make personal contact with the coaching staffs of the area colleges to find the best candidates we can. Retention is another area to consider. It’s important to hold on to the people you have on staff and build candidates from within.”

Brent Kucera, Football, Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s

Kucera is a big reason why the St. Mary’s football program has turned into a powerhouse in the Southern Minnesota Conference. He’s been the head coach at St. Mary’s since the 2010 season. The Knights went 3-6 in his first year, but they went 9-4 in 2011 with a state tournament semifinal loss at the Metrodome, then went 10-1 last year and another state tournament trip.

Kucera works full-time at Mathiowetz Construction as an estimator. He’s also part-owner of the company, so he doesn’t have as many issues with trying to get off work as long as he does what he needs to every day.

Kucera admits he couldn’t do any of this by himself. In fact, he is surrounded by plenty of coaches and even his wife to help him with all of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

For Kucera, balancing coaching and work is something he’s quite used to now. The two seem to run into each other quite often on a daily basis.

“Work gets stressful at times,” Kucera said in an e-mail. “One day I will work on a $20,000,000 road construction bid and next I am working on how to beat a cover three defense. Both are very difficult. Luckily I work with very smart people at Mathiowetz and have a great coaching staff. I think for both my work and coaching life the biggest key is have great people around me. I would be terrible by myself. I am very grateful to the Mathiowetz family for allowing me to follow my passion.”

A typical day for Kucera begins at 5:30 a.m. when he wakes up. He arrives at work at about 6:15 a.m. and he puts in his full day there.

After work, he heads to school for practice at 3 p.m. and gets home at about 6:30 p.m. There, he relaxes, spends time with his kids, eats, watches game film, and goes to bed at 10:30 p.m.

While he’s able to balance both football and his job with Mathiowetz Construction, he would never be able to do it without his wife Rachel.

“My wife is probably the most important person in the football program,” he said. “She takes care of the stats, film, and keeps me organized. She probably puts in five-six hours every week just for football. thats on top of being a mom for our four kids…ages 6, 4, 2, 9 months. Plus five horses, one dog and a road construction company. Its amazing how she lets me do what I do. There is no way I could ever thank her enough.”

Like any coach, he needs to find a balance between football time and real life. He said that just getting to know the players off the field is what makes coaching so much fun.

“The relationship with the players is great,” Kucera said. “We go scout games together. Talk everyday life together. Try to steer kids in the right direction after they are done with school. I especially enjoy talking with former players who have gone through the program. Even talk fantasy football. I think the biggest thing as a coaching staff we do is we treat the players like adults…we put them in situations where they need to lead the team or make decisions for the team. I don’t believe in coaches making every decision. We also tell the players straight out if they make a mistake. I am not going to baby them. If they need to be told they are being lazy or made a mistake we tell them. And I think they respect that.”

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