Coaches have traditionally been known to put their teams and their programs above all else. The job is all-consuming and the pressure is great.
With the increased attention on and scrutiny of student athletes’ mental wellness in sports, especially because of the COVID years, many coaches have had their hands full with the need for quick decision-making, adjustment practice and game scheduling, meeting with administrators, dealing with reporters, readjusting team rosters, counseling players and sometimes parents, fundraising, speaking at events, attending community service opportunities, and trying to find time for their own families. That’s A LOT.
Most of the attention on mental wellness has been directed towards student-athletes. Very little attention or study has focused on coaches. Many coaches agree that depression, anxiety, burnout, and stress are prevalent in the coaching profession. This suggests that more studies are necessary.
In a guest editorial for Swimming World, the author highlighted an academic paper written by Olympian Earl McCarthy. In the paper, he concludes that poor mental health and burnout are strong themes in the coaching profession. His conclusions point to three main reasons:
The consequences, according to McCarthy, are:
You, as a coach, intentionally put yourself last when dealing with these issues. It’s unavoidable at times because your calendar is full of “putting out fires” and working to improve the team and program.
But how often do you take a step back to evaluate your own health, mental awareness, and sense of work-life balance?
Many coaches shelve their own personal health and wellness in order to continue training, winning, and helping others succeed.
Furthermore, student-athletes, parents, administrators, fans, and the media often forget that coaches are people, too; people with needs, families, and a life outside of sport.
Parents and athletes not only forget that their coaches have lives away from coaching, but also pile on the expectations, and put the responsibility, on the coaches to secure playing time, a college roster spot, and an athletic scholarship.
It can be overwhelming, and it has caused many coaches to leave the coaching profession altogether.
Beth Lorell, a licensed social worker who specializes in public health, shares her thoughts on how coaches can approach their mental wellness.
“An organization can champion mental health and promote a culture of well-being while running a thriving, elite sports program.” – Beth Lorell
No doubt you are an important person in the lives of each athlete you coach, but you do deserve time away from those athletes and their families. That’s time that can be spent enjoying your family, your friends, and the downtime needed to refresh your mind and body. You’ll be healthier for yourself, your family, and your team.
Hit the “off” button sometimes. The world will continue without you connected to the internet. Those who want to reach you will do so when you become available again.
Go somewhere fun with your family, and take the time off. Take more than just a long weekend. You need the rest, and your family needs your time and presence.
Stop throughout the day and just take a deep breath. This usually slows the heart rate and can even boost your energy level. Do this more than once a day.
Hire assistants that will help lighten your load. Find passionate people who enjoy working with others and who are service-oriented. It’s not always easy, but keep an open mind and an open eye. These people are out there.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. The more the better. Communicate your needs with those who are the leaders of your organization. Find the people in your department or school who are helpful. You need allies.
Give work to others. You can’t do it all yourself. These people can be some of your team members, parents, administrators, janitors, managers, and assistant coaches. Take a look throughout your school or organization to find people who can help do the work.
Try to eat healthily and get sleep. It’s so important for your longevity in the season, the year, and your career.
Give yourself some grace. The coaching profession is hard enough on you. Don’t add to it. You are doing the best you can with the resources you have, and you are continually making a difference. Stick with it.
You are more than the sport you coach. Take a breather and a break when you need one. Doing so may add some happiness, family time, and health to your life.
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