Indian cricket captains greying while in their 20s and 30s is so common that it hardly causes comment. Virat Kohli confessed a couple of years ago that it was “part of the responsibility”. In other words, pressure. Much less attention is paid to the state of the coaches’ hair in sports because a) they usually come in with grey hair or b) they are seen as backroom people the state of whose hair (or anything else) is of little importance to the public.
Yet, coaches operate under as much pressure as anybody else. Big names are sacked even as teams lose, and the bigger they are the harder they fall. In West Asia, I once heard the story of a coach, who, when his team lost was escorted straight to the airport to take the next flight out of the country with the promise that his bags would follow. If fans are capricious, team owners and directors are often equally so. You don’t have to be mad to be a coach — but it helps. At the club and international levels where the money is sometimes beyond the dreams of avarice, the pressures are proportionately high.
Sometimes you can be sacked for being too successful. Some years ago, Steve King, the coach of the Lewes Football Club in Sussex was let go because his team was doing too well. He had led the side to two promotions in four years and then the title and promotion to the Conference, the apex of the non-league pyramid. The owners explained that it hadn’t been in King’s job description to get those promotions. Apparently, they were worried about the expenses to keep their status in the Conference. The ground improvements, and the player expenses as a result of success meant that King had to go.
There is too, the effect on families. Australia’s cricket coach Justin Langer recently confessed that his job took its toll on him — personal as well as on his wife Sue who would lapse into crying fits. Langer quoted his wife as saying, “I just don’t like what’s happening here, I don’t like what it’s doing to you, I don’t like what it’s doing to us, people are so mean, what people are saying about you and the team and Australian cricket.”
At the 2007 cricket World Cup, Pakistan’s coach Bob Woolmer died within hours of his team losing to Ireland and being eliminated. He had medical problems, but the stress of his position was a major factor.
All professionals face stress and tension, but coaches being alternately pilloried and praised publicly often find these in concentrated form over short periods. Some take refuge in alcohol, living in a world where their careers might come apart at any point.
“Last Sunday I wanted to commit suicide,” said Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur after his team lost to India in the cricket World Cup. He might have been exaggerating to make a point, but that’s not a sentiment unfamiliar to coaches.