Written By: Tracey & Jason Calanog
As my husband and I sat down to relax one evening after our kids went to bed, he asked if I would be interested in writing a blog post for Streamline Teams - something he is incredibly passionate about. My face immediately lit up, as this has been something I have been wanting, and hoping, to do for a very long time.
Jason and I met in college at West Virginia University, where one chapter of his life closed as a swimmer, and another chapter began as a coach. Back then, the swimming community was far different than it is now. One of the major differences would have to be the resources available for coaches as they train some of the world’s most elite athletes in a sport they love so dearly. Now, the possibilities are endless for coaches. However, one thing people tend to leave out of those resources - coaching balance. When athletes join a team, they become family. They live together. They eat together. They travel together. They grow together, as a unit. They learn one another’s likes and dislikes. They learn how to function in their sport as one unit. They learn how they can support one another in celebration, as well as sorrow and heartache. They form everlasting relationships with others, and learn to cope through healing together. They become family. As a coach’s wife and parent, things are not as cut-and-dry. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pressures we have to keep our families going as we work through our family dynamics in a world that is ever-changing.
Coaches have that unique attribute where they get to experience family in two diverse ways, yet mean the same thing. There are high points and low points, but the support will never break. Life has definitely not been easy for us, but we try to make the most out of every situation. There will always be sacrifices that come up; however, once again, the support will never break. Jason and I were not able to have biological children of our own, and after several miscarriages and heartbreak, we decided we would welcome children into a loving home through adoption. The call we had been waiting for our entire lives finally happened, as we sat in Waco, TX one sunny afternoon joined by Jason’s sister (Michelle), her husband (David) and their son (Ayden). We were told when the kids would be brought to our home, and we could not be more excited. As the days got closer, we knew Jason would only have a very short time with them once they arrived because he had to be at the TYR Pro Swim Series in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, things happened beyond anyone’s control, and the kid’s “Gotcha Day” was delayed; which then meant Jason would not be there when they arrived. We always knew there would be sacrifices that would be outside our scope of abilities to do something about; and this was one of them. It broke Jason’s heart when we found out the kids were going to get to our home while he was away; however, we worked together to figure out a system and schedule for video calls until he could get home. This has become a major piece of the puzzle throughout a coaching career - communication. His colleagues and athletes were incredibly supportive and understanding, considering this was a huge meet for the team and an even bigger day in our personal lives.
There may not always be sacrifices, but there will always be support - no matter what. A balance will not always look 50/50, but when we lean on one another, we are able to come to an understanding. That is balance. Understanding is a key component in support. I understand Jason’s love for the sport of swimming, and he is incredible at what he does. Between practices, meets, mentoring, team meetings, crisis interventions, training, traveling, and everything else that comes along as a coach, there is not always time leftover to spend with family. Carving out the time, whatever that may look like for your family, is what matters in balance. The moments between those times, no matter how long or short it may be, holds the key to balancing coaching and family. There will always be times that are unavoidable; however, when Jason had the opportunity to work with his fellow coaches and relay his priority as a father, he was able to change the swim schedule which then allowed him the time to pick-up our sons from school one afternoon a week and take them to school the next morning, as well.
I will never forget the week Jason returned from Indianapolis, and how it felt to have all four of us together at the same time. The first time I brought the kids to the pool to introduce them to everyone, the smiles on their faces will forever be imprinted in my memory. They were starstruck as they met so many wonderful, caring people that played with them, told jokes, held them, hugged them, and told them funny things their dad has done over the years. They felt safe. They felt invincible because they had so many people telling them they are family now. They bonded over swimming stories, dinosaurs, reptiles, football, stop watches, bright orange cones, and so much more. One of my favorite pre-COVID traditions since moving to Texas had been the team lunches or dinners before a big game on recruiting weekends. We would invite the team to the house, along with the recruits and their families, to join us for food and fellowship before heading out to the football games. This was a time for our family to get to know the athletes and other coaching staff. There is also the traditional Team Welcome Banquet, where the start of the team’s journey begins - a blending of two families, if you will. In August 2018, just three months after we welcomed the boys’ into our lives, the team welcomed them to their family, too. Members of the Texas A&M University Swimming and Diving teams called the four of us to the front of the room as they grabbed the microphone, and announced to our two boys that they now had more uncles and aunties than they could even count that would always have their backs, no matter what. The parents of the student-athletes were all incredibly supportive, and were so engaging every step of the way, as well. Needless to say, there was no amount of tissues that could have caught the many tears shed that day, as we listened to such a welcoming. This was one of the many blessings the team has given us - a lifetime of support, care and understanding.
When we initially became foster parents in May 2018, we knew things would be a little different as we would be adopting children that have a very traumatic history; and learning about our children’s lives was certainly not easy. We have tried to set good examples for them to grow in a world they had never experienced before. The boys were 2 and 8 years old when we welcomed them into our family. We fought for their safety, their protection, their lives…and we would do absolutely anything for our kids. We haven’t always gotten it right, but we know by working together, we can always bring that sense of new reality to their lives. Through all the ups and downs of fostering - the fears, the anxieties, the hopes, the laughs, the memories made…they make a difference in our lives every single day. When the day finally came to go before the judge and make it official in May 2020, we were joined by over fifty friends and family from around the world through videoconferencing - something that may not have been possible in a pre-COVID world. Our kids were able to see how incredibly special they are to our family and friends, as the judge commented that our adoption had the largest support system tuning in that she has ever been a part of.
We know life has its ups and downs, moments that we cherish for a lifetime, and moments we may not always want to remember. However, through everything - finding the balance is what gets us through each and every day.
A few key points we have learned along the way:
Support one another. Support one another’s hopes and dreams. Be there for each other in whatever way works best for your family. If you have children, sitting down as a family to talk about what it means to be supportive, even when we are not in the same places at the same times could make a major impact with them.
Communicate with one another. Communicate your needs, your wants, your expectations, your realities, your schedules, your parenting styles…communicate your feelings. Take time away from all technology and actually talk to one another and catch up on life. Family dinners are a great time to make this happen. If you are traveling, set up a time to have dinner with one another virtually.
Understand one another’s expectations and realities. Understand there will be times that don’t match with one another…and that is okay. Understand that life is going on around you, whether you are in, or out, of the swimming season.
Sacrifices only work when everyone is on the same page with everything above. Sacrifice is not easy by any means; but working together can be the balance.
Remind one another about the importance of self care and mental wellness - things that both team and personal families need to have a large focus on. It may not be easy, but it is necessary.
Find a way to bring everyone together (safely, of course) - personal and professional families. This could look as simple as sharing a meal together, or going on an outing together. As COVID has shown us over the past couple of years, there are very easy ways to gather with everyone - no matter where in the world they are physically located.
Resources are out there - use them…that is why they exist. Reach out to fellow coaches to get advice on balancing home and work life. Reach out to other family members of coaches to learn how they cope with the ins and outs of being in a sporting family.
Family is always our #1 priority, and that will never change. However, when we remember the keys above, the ever-changing balances become clearer in both personal and professional lifestyles for coaches and their families. It is not always easy, but we are always here for one another, both professionally and personally - no matter where life takes us. We tell our kids - “Love created this team, and that will never change.” The imperfect balances keep us believing in ourselves, our families, and our goals - growing together.
Energetic and motivating, Jason Calanog was originally hired as an assistant coach at Texas A&M, on June 5, 2015, and has since been elevated to associate head coach. Calanog's infectious positivity and attention to detail have paid immediate dividends as the Aggies returned to the top 25 at the NCAA Championships in his first season, flirted with the top 15 in his second campaign and placed 14th at the 2018 meet. Every school record had been broken since Calanog arrived in Aggieland, with the longest standing record dating back to 2017. In 2021, Clanaog helped guide the Aggies to new heights as they notched their first top-10 finish as a team at NCAA Championships since 2001, with the program's first individual champion, Shaine Casas, leading the way, earning CSCAA and SEC Male Swimmer of the Year. Casas became the fourth swimmer since 2000 to win all three individual events he competed in as he placed first in the 100 back, 200 back and 200 IM. The 800 free relay team of Casas, Mark Theall, Kaloyan Bratanov and Clayton Bobo matched the Aggies' best relay finish after taking third, while the 200 free relay team of Casas, Bratanov, Theall and Tanner Olson added a top-five finish at NCAAs. At 2021 SEC Championships, Casas became the first Aggie to earn the Commissioner's Trophy multiple times as he brought home three individual medals, winning both backstroke events and taking third in the 100 fly. The 800 free relay team ended Florida's years-long run in the top spot to claim the top spot, while the 200 medley relay team also made a trip to the podium. Calanog helped guide the Aggies to a historic performance at the 2020 SEC Championships as the team matched its best finish at the meeting, taking second. Six individual school records were set at the 2020 SEC Championships, as well as four relay school records. The Aggies brought home 15 medals as Shaine Casas became the first Aggie to earn multiple golds at SEC Championships, claiming the 200 IM and erasing U.S. Olympian Ryan Lochte's SEC record in the 200 back. Casas was awarded the Commissioner's Cup, given to the top point-earner at SEC Championships. Benjamin Walker also had another historic performance at the 2020 championships. After becoming the first Aggie to earn an individual SEC swimming title in 2019 winning the 200 breast, Walker repeated in the event as a senior with a school record-setting performance. In dual meet action, the Aggies remained in the top 10 in the national rankings all season, moving as high as No. 4 in December and finishing with a 7-3 record, including an early defeat of then-No. 5 Ohio State to start the year. The Aggies experienced a breakthrough season in 2017-18, setting a school record with a runner-up finish at the SEC Championship and placed 14th at NCAAs. Over the year A&M went 7-1 in dual meets, including the first victory over rival Texas in 55 seasons. In 2016-17, the Aggies placed 16th the NCAA Championships while tallying a 4-1 dual record. In his initial season in Aggieland, Texas A&M finished No. 25 at the national meet, had two school records broken and compiled a 7-1 dual meet record, which was the team’s best in more than a decade. Prior to coming to Texas A&M, Calanog served as a senior assistant coach at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Florida, from 2007-15. During his time with the club team, his swimmers set multiple national age group records and qualified for the Olympic Games and FINA World Championships, as well as the Junior World Championships, U.S. Nationals and Junior Nationals. Calanog was named a USA National Team coach in 2016 and served as a USA National Junior Team coach the previous three seasons. He was also tabbed as the head coach of the USA Swimming Diversity Camp West team in 2014. Calanog has a long history of coaching with the Philippines National Team. He was the Philippines head coach for the 2010 Pan Pacific Games (Irvine, Calif.) and the 2009 FINA World Championships (Rome, Italy). He was also an assistant coach for the Philippines National Team at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, as well as the 2007 and 2009 South East Asian Games. Calanog added to his swimming repertoire by serving as television analyst for the Florida Swim Network’s recap show at the Florida High School Athletic Association’s state swimming championships in 2014. He was a reporter for the Florida Swim Network at the 2015 NCAA Men’s Swimming and Diving Championships. Calanog served as volunteer assistant coach for then-head coach Sergio Lopez and the West Virginia Mountaineers from 2006 to 2007. He helped the Mountaineer men’s team to the 2007 Big East team title and the women’s team to its highest conference finish in school history. He also was an assistant coach for the West Virginia Aquatics club team. Calanog, who is married to the former Tracey Mascola, earned his bachelor’s degree in multidisciplinary studies with a concentration in business administration, communications and economics from West Virginia in 2007.