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Balancing Act: Working and coaching

Dirk Stealy knew it would create chaos in his life when he landed a lucrative contract to remodel Bob Evans stores in Central Florida. But there was no way he would let his work schedule keep him from coaching his son, Kole, in football.

Each night after the Davie team practices, Stealy drives three hours to work, spends his evenings overseeing his crew, and then returns home the next morning. "I'm very fortunate to be self-employed because there is no way I would miss out on coaching my boy.''

Across South Florida, men are rearranging work schedules, fielding e-mails on their BlackBerrys and telling the boss they just can't make the client meeting. It's the time of year when youth sports kick in. Even in the Nintendo generation, more than 26 million children in America are engaged in play some sort of sports. For more than 2.5 million parents who coach, most of them dads, it means stepping up role-juggling skills and handling work/life conflicts as they arise.

In overworked America, "fathers are looking for a way to connect with their kids,'' said Roland Warren, director of The National Fatherhood Initiative.

Working fathers say integrating team needs with office life requires thoughtful time management, flexibility at work and diplomacy.

Not surprising, nearly three-quarters of fathers identified the ability to work flexible hours as the most appealing option for parents, with the ability to telecommute also high on the list, according to a CareerBuilder.com study. And, employers report more men are resisting travel, with nearly 50 percent of male executives saying they're more likely to include such discussions during job negotiations than they were five years ago.

After a 10-hour day at work, my husband Marc often rushes to the basketball court, sometimes changing into his coach shirt while darting into the gym. "Coaching, for me, is like family time,'' he says.

Over the years, he's negotiated with the league to push his practice times back, and programmed himself to check e-mail on practice nights for updates from the league. Because of his long work hours, he also has had to become more realistic about his commitments, paring back to coach only one of our sons' teams at a time.

BUSINESS BENEFITS

Most coaches find it rewarding to help youngsters improve their game. But there are business benefits, too.

Mark Gilbert, a Miami real estate broker with three kids, helped form a basketball league five years ago. He has coached up to three teams at a time and has found mingling with team parents a bonus: "I don't think anyone does it for networking but I will tell you there are a lot of diverse, successful families involved in the league.''

Even more, Gilbert says, he's mastered the art of scheduling, blocking out any work travel ahead of time. "I set up my season early and build my work schedule and basketball around each other.''

On game nights, Gilbert morphs from role to role, coming in by 6:30 a.m. to dash out of work by 5 p.m. When Gilbert recently won top producer honors, his company, Cushman & Wakefield, rewarded him with a basketball signed by his team.

Those who go from business attire to coach's uniform quickly realize it requires multitasking and thoughtful time management. For every hour they put in on the field, they will spend at least another in administrative duties: setting schedules, e-mailing parents, submitting league paperwork, planning practices. And of course, they must factor in time spent with irate parents who jockey for more game time for their child.

To manage it all, one dad, who coaches his kids and volunteers as vice commissioner of

flag football in Plantation, keeps work and sports on the same calendar and sets aside his

lunch hour for team maintenance.

"Sometimes a referee calls in sick and I have to be on top of that,'' said Bob Horland, a district manager for Marshall's and father of three. He also might spend lunch looking over his playbook or calling back a parent.

FINDING BALANCE

Horland says he's has learned the key to balancing work and youth sports is assistant coaches. Recently, he had to take a conference call mid-game to discuss hurricane planning with store executives. He turned to his assistants to take over. "Those kind of things do happen and work comes first.''

But on the rewards side, coach Dave Kleinman asks, what could be better than helping kids learn how to love to play a game and be part of a team? Kleinman, a self-employed electrical contractor, says his father, an attorney, worked too many hours to coach his teams. He wants more work-life balance.

"Because I'm there, I think it makes my son a better player.''

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