As the head coach for the University of Louisville womenâ€™s basketball team, it could understandably be hard to balance work and family life. With the constant travel, games, practices, interviews and administrative duties, someone in such a position could easily find him or herself spending more time at the office than at home. However, Coach Jeff Walz has mastered this balance and in fact woven the two together to enjoy the best of both worlds.
At work, Walz strives to create and maintain a supportive and familial environment. And for him, that starts during the recruiting process. â€œItâ€™s something in the recruiting process that we look for,â€ he asserts. â€œWe look for kids who know how to work together, who understand the importance of teamwork. You canâ€™t have that if you donâ€™t have a group of players who enjoy being around each other but at the same time respect each otherâ€™s differences.â€
Indeed, Walz does all he can to form a team of women who not only excel at basketball but also help foster a unified environment. â€œWe try to do as many different team-building activities as we can,â€ he says. â€œOn road trips, we try do as much as possible where everybodyâ€™s involved. Itâ€™s what we do. We eat together; weâ€™re always around each other, so you want to make sure that you have a good group of kids who really enjoy being around each other. But at the same time, they are able to go off and do their own thing.â€
Understandably, from being around each other so often, the women on his team have formed an incredibly tight bond, not only with each other but with their coach as well. Moreover, they respect each otherâ€™s individuality, whether on the court or off. â€œI think weâ€™re a tight-knit group that appreciates each other,â€ Walz contends. â€œEverybody has a value. Everybody contributes to our program no matter if itâ€™s on the floor scoring points or if itâ€™s helping at practice and working to push the starters hard. Every day, everybody has a value.â€
Beyond purely respecting each other, Walzâ€™s determination to cultivate a family-oriented environment has yielded a culture where the players know that they always have someone to depend on. â€œTheyâ€™re together a lot,â€ he admits. â€œI think they appreciate what each other brings and then also know that they count on each other if they need something.â€
As far as Walz is concerned, creating this sort of dynamic for his team isnâ€™t just something he sees as important but rather something he views as absolutely critical for the teamâ€™s success and the growth of the players themselves. â€œYou have to have good team chemistry in order to have a functioning unit, so itâ€™s important for us to make sure our players understand that they need each other and they canâ€™t do it all themselves,â€ he maintains.
As a husband and father, Walz has deftly meshed his worlds so that he neednâ€™t sacrifice time away from work nor time away from home. â€œIâ€™m fortunate enough to have a wife who really understands the demands of this job,â€ he explains. â€œAnd she enjoys basketball. My kids are up here at practice with me at times; they go on the road with us. We try to do as much as we can as a family even thought it might revolve around work.â€
From a previous marriage, Walz has a 9-year-old and a 10-year old who live in South Carolina but frequently visit. From his current marriage, he has 2-year-old and a 5-month-old, both of whom he enjoys bringing around the team and on the road with him.
â€œ[All my children] enjoy basketball, and they enjoy the team,â€ he laughs. â€œThey really look forward to the opportunities to travel with us and be around each other.â€ The team similarly enjoys spending time with Walzâ€™s children. And that really speaks to Walzâ€™s commitment to the positive and familial dynamic. Everyoneâ€™s there for the sport, but, thanks to Walzâ€™s leadership, theyâ€™re all part of one big family. VT
Photos courtesy of Louisville Athletics