Approaching the stress of coaching

It’s 4:30 a.m. at South Dakota State University and head wrestling coach Chris Bono starts his day.

The morning starts by working out, then preparing for the next tournament, looking out for his team, recruiting and family time. At about 11 p.m., he calls it a day.

The next morning, it starts all over again.

“I’m probably not all there [in the head],” Bono said. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”

Bono joked he may be crazy, but as a coach, it’s part of the job to him.

While dedicating their time to push athletes toward excellence, SDSU coaches have a full plate.

It can be a struggle to maintain mental and physical health during a stressful season, so coaches have various approaches to achieving it. 

Head football coach John Stiegelmeier echoed Bono’s strategy. There’s a lot at stake being a Division I coach, Stiegelmeier said.

“The coaching profession is one of the most stressful professions there is,” Stiegelmeier said. “If you don’t win, you lose your job. If your players mess up, you may lose your job.”

Stiegelmeier thinks he manages stress well, which is reflected in his 128-90 record in 19 years.

Stiegelmeier said during the season his team probably works 85-100 hours a week with meetings and practices.

He and Bono said they wake up early to work out, because it serves as “therapy” to clear their minds and get ready for the day.

“I try to wake up early enough to get 30 minutes of exercise, but, during the season, it’s a bit of a crapshoot,” Stiegelmeier admitted.

While working out is necessary to maintain energy throughout their long, hectic days, head volleyball coach Nicole Cirillo said it’s sometimes difficult to fit everything in. 

“I will admit that sometimes I have to remind myself to eat, because I just have a lot going on and I get so worked up into things,” Cirillo said.

The coaches said mental health ranks over physicality, because they think a coach’s attitude affects 


It’s important for Bono to keep his practices high-energy and positive for his wrestlers. He said he must avoid staying angry with his athletes when they disappoint him, and hide his stress from his wrestlers to “be there for them,” Bono said.

He hides his feelings a lot, because letting go isn’t in Bono’s nature.

“I hold grudges. It’s bad,” Bono said. “I don’t let things go very easily, professionally or personally. So, it’s very, very, very, very hard.”

Bono claimed this doesn’t negatively affect his team, because it pushes him to be better. 

That shows in the team’s performance. Bono is 50-38 in five years at SDSU and his success has earned the team national recognition in the NCAA.

Stiegelmeier and Cirillo feel differently about holding grudges compared to Bono. They aren’t the type of people to hold onto things and find they do their job better when they “live in the present,” they said.

All coaches said their home life and family time serve as a good escape for them to get away from work for a bit.

“There are hard days in the office and in the gym, whether someone made a mistake, or whatever. I feel like the second I get home it’s a whole other world,” said Cirillo, who has a 12-48 record in two years at SDSU. “I don’t really have to think about [the bad day] too much, there.”

Cirillo is raising three boys with her husband and said it requires a lot of work. She tries to give them her full attention at home as she is gone so much due to her job.

Despite all the stress and sacrifice, the coaches find motivation from their players. All coaches want their athletes to succeed academically, socially and athletically. So, they will do whatever it takes.

“I want to win,” Bono said. “I will do whatever it takes to win. I am motivated by my kids’ goals … I am going to give them every little thing I have.”