What to do when you feel burned out...and want to quit

It was spring - during my 5th year as an assistant collegiate swim coach. I was done. I had already made a new plan. I was moving to Alaska. 

I would work at Starbucks or REI. I wanted to do something easy. Maybe I would pick up some substitute teaching hours along the way.

My friend had offered me a place to live for free while she traveled out of the country for the next six months.

All I wanted to do was sleep...and be by myself. What I realized later was that I was experiencing all the classic signs and symptoms of burnout. 

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3 things you can do to be clear, save time, and get to sleep at night

When I first accepted the head coaching job at Washington State University, my former boss congratulated me and then said, "Congratulations coach! That's so awesome. You're not gonna be able to sleep for a month."

He was right. 

As soon as I said yes to this job, my brain turned on with a never-ending checklist on a continuous scroll. All the things I needed and wanted to do would pop into my head - day and night. I had so many thoughts. I couldn't shut them off.

The best thing I did during this transition was hire a coach. We began working together immediately and our coaching relationship continued - almost weekly - for 9 years. I can't imagine how hard things would have been without her consistent support. She taught me strategies I still use and now teach to the coaches I work with today.

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How female coaches become isolated

I was on a coaching call recently with a head coach who was in her third season at a new school. Things were "going well" for her and her team.

"I'm starting to hit my stride," she said proudly. She seemed to have buy in, athletes were working hard, the team was performing, captains didn't report any complaints, and things were rolling along. 

Her biggest challenge at the moment was feeling disconnected from coaches within her athletic department...and especially isolated from other female coaches. Honestly, she was hurt by this. She had made a few attempts...and been shut down. She didn't know what else to try.

She was single, they had kids. She was new, they had all been there "forever". When she went by their offices to initiate some small talk...they were either too busy or made up excuses to go do something else.

Can you relate?

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How to shift your attitude to gratitude when dealing with challenging athletes

Written by Erica Quam

The challenging athletes are usually the one's who get most of your attention, take most of your time, and drain most of your energy. They can leave you exhausted - while whittling away at your passion and inspiration. Just when you think you've got your team moving together in the right direction...another issue surfaces and drama escalates.

(You probably have someone in mind...right? Your blood pressure may be elevating just by reading this...)

Your other athletes sense your frustration. They're most likely fed up with the whole situation too. 

They don't know what to say to you...and they're definitely not sure how to handle their teammate.

This vicious cycle will not only keep your team stuck...it will widen the gap between where you are and where you wanna go.

You didn't sign up for this. You just wanna coach!!!! Is that too much to ask????

A better approach

The frustrating thing for many coaches is you can't change your athletes. You can only change YOU. You've got to find a way to take a step back and look at the bigger picture while you identify the broader lesson.

With each challenging athlete ask yourself...what are THEY here to teach YOU

  • how to set better boundaries & say no
  • how to handle mental health issues
  • how to support diversity on your team
  • how to emphasize character over results
  • how to coach leadership in your captains
  • how to facilitate team conflicts
  • how to maintain a positive team environment
  • what to teach your assistant coach
  • to have better clarity in your recruiting
  • that you need to communicate expectations up front
  • when to reinforce rules more consistently
  • how to tap into other resources and ask for help
  • that you need to create a support system for yourself

I have a belief that may sound crazy. I believe if you DON'T learn how to deal with each challenging athlete on your team (or any person in your life, come to think of it) then there will be a whole lot more of them lining up for you.

Where does gratitude come in?

When you shift your energy to gratitude, it will change everything for you.

Gratitude list: As hard as it may be at first, write your challenging athlete down on your gratitude list. Next, take a few minutes to consider the lessons they are helping you learn. Write the lesson down too.

Gratitude letter: Go a step further and write a thank you note to them. (You don't have to give it to them.) Thank them for what they are teaching you as a coach and how they are helping you grow as a person.

Then, the next time you deal with a challenging issue that comes up you can more objective and shift your perspective.

While this will not change them, it will definitely change you. That's just the kind of game-changer you need.

Share one lesson a challenging athlete has taught you already this season in the comments below. Your comment just may help another coach out there who is struggling with a similar issue.

3 things you're avoiding that's draining your energy

I've noticed a pattern that's come up recently with a few of the coaches I work with. I'm curious if you can relate?

Read through each hypothetical situation below and consider what you would do.

Note: Don't think too long. There are no right or wrong answers. Choose the letter that best describes your 'go-to' mode. (And...be honest.)

1. You're walking down the hall and see someone...at the other end of the hall...who you really don't want to talk to. What do you do?

Do you a) avert your eyes, find something interesting on the floor, pick up the pace and walk briskly walk by...like you're in a hurry b) duck into the closest restroom...and hope they don't come in c) pull your phone out and pretend to answer an important call d) suck it up and begin the conversation...awkwardly or e) none of the above? 

2. There's a big decision you need to make by tomorrow. What do you do? 

Do you a) go workout, turn up the music and try not to think about it b) go home, tune into a new Netflix series and numb out with three more episodes c) stay at the office late, like you're "really

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How are you REALLY doing right now?

It was day 2 of a 3 day competition. Samantha (Sam) walked over to her friend, Tonya - who coached at a different school - as both of their teams were stretching and warming up.

Tonya asks, "How are you?"

Sam responds (knowing she'd have to get back to her athletes in a matter of minutes), "I'm doing (she paused)...good I guess." 

In reality, she wasn't doing well...and Tonya knew at least some of the background. 

In April, they had been to the same coaching summit and had one of the most pivotal conversations of Sam's coaching career so far.

She hadn't realized how much her and Tonya had in common - until they actually had a chance to talk.

Both been through similar challenges that year with their head coach. Both had been at a crossroads - with decisions they needed to make about a next step along their coaching journey.

Sam was on the verge of tears...yet, she forced a smile. She knew she had to just keep it together to get through the day. "How are you, Tonya?" 

Tonya answers, "I'm okay. You know - there's a lot of stuff going on. I'm sure you've had your fair share of challenges to deal with this season, too. But all in all, for the moment, things are...mmmmm...at least, somewhat manageable."

They both laughed and nodded their heads in agreement - with the unspoken understanding that they were "in-season". 

They knew they had to keep things light and their conversation right at the surface. No time to really connect, show emotion, or explore any part of the iceberg that was looming underneath the surface. They both knew it - without even bringing it up.

One of Sam's athletes runs up to ask for something. They give each other a quick hug, a high five, and then both go back to their teams.

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