Coaching burnout?...I'd rather not talk about it

written by Erica Quam

'Well rested' is not an adjective one can frequently use to describe collegiate coaches. I facilitate women's coaches summits where many arrive exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready for a break. 

In some coaching circles putting in long hours, getting little sleep, and taking few vacations is a badge of honor to wear proudly. I understand coaches are competitive. I get it. But, your lack of rest is not something that should earn you any bragging rights! No wonder coaches get stressed out, burnt out, and then drop out...of this profession.

Work provies the means to live.Rest gives meaning to life..png

Have you ever experienced any symptoms of burnout?

  • Physical and emotional fatigue or exhaustion
  • Disconnect between job and responsibilities
  • Cynicism, isolation, or detachment
  • Feeling unimportant or ineffective
  • Lack of passion 

Click here for a self test on burnout.

One of the most recognized coaches to experience burnout publicly is Urban Meyer, former University of Florida football coach who is now head coach at Ohio State.

His time away from coaching helped him realize the importance of family, nutrition, fitness, and sleep. Before Meyer accepted the job at Ohio State University, his family had him sign a contract. His daughter made him insist that he would "eat three meals a day, sleep with his cellphone on silent, and answer [her] calls no matter what he was doing."

“You want to build your [sleep] bank,” Urban says, echoing performance psychologist Jim Loehr. “So when the storm hits, the bank is full. How do you build your bank? I’m working out. Eating right. Training right. But also, when it’s time off, and family time, putting more into your bank. You gotta keep filling the bank."

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of "Why You Get More Done When You Work Less" argues, "It's not about work-life balance. Those two things are going to be perpetually in conflict. Work and rest aren't opposites like black and white or good and evil. They're more like different points on life's wave. The last twenty years of research has given us insight into the role rest plays in strengthening the brain, enhancing learning, enabling inspiration, and making [how we work] sustainable." 

How to coaches keep from burning out?

1. Pay attention: Observe yourself and your emotions carefully. If you find yourself getting easily triggered - where your reactions to little things are at an 8, 9, or 10 when they should be at a 2, 3, or 4 level of intensity...this is probably a sign you need more time to relax and recharge.

2. Unplug from coaching: It may seem like you can't ever take a break over the long haul of the season. Yet finding downtime is essential! Instead of staying at work all day - see how creative you can be in how you break your time up. Go workout after morning practice. Go for a walk outside to get lunch. Sit down for some quiet time or a short meditation. Find a place to take a 30 minute power-nap. Work a half day from home every week. Spend as much of the off-season doing things you love - with family and friends - so you can refill your tank for the next year. 

3. Reach out: During the season, it's tempting to climb on that treadmill and never stop. Problems come up and instead of reaching out you hide. You 'lone wolf' it - and put all your effort, energy, and focus into finding the solution by yourself. Don't go it alone! Tap into people who support you and believe in you - other coaches, mentors, and colleagues. Get outside your head. Gain a different perspective. Come up for air! This can be so important - especially if you're feeling stuck and overwhelmed.

4. Plan ahead: So many of the things coaches deal with on a daily basis are the unknowns - the ever changing situations that pop up. It's important to do as much planning as you can ahead of time. Take care of as many of the controllables - before the uncontrollables happen! Also, plan ahead for yourself to stay physically, mentally, and emotionally ready for whatever comes your way. Eat well, get good sleep, and exercise regularly - even in the midst of the busiest times! There are lots of tools out there to help you turn planning into a practice.

5. Connect with other coaches: It may seem counter-intuitive to take some of your valuable time away and spend it 'talking shop' with other coaches. Yet, it's something that significantly helps with burnout. Get re-inspired, have new ideas, and learn new techniques. This can re-ignite the passion that fades over the course of a season. Many coaches feel better when they share their experiences and issues with other coaches who can relate. Talking with people who have gone through similar challenges will help you feel less isolated, more validated, and understood.

Make it a priority to hang out with your coaching colleagues and attend your annual coaching convention. Actively search for unique opportunities to connect, learn, and grow: come to a women's coaching summit, or join an organization like the Alliance of Women Coaches. Don't allow lack of funding to keep you from connecting. Get deliberate: look for grants, find a sponsor, or even pay out of pocket. Ultimately, it's an investment in your overall health, happiness, and well-being. You are worth it!

Rest is not something that the world gives us. It’s never been a gift. It’s never been something you do when you’ve finished everything else. If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.
— Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Have any ah-ha's from reading this article or a simple piece of wisdom to share with another coach? Leave your comments below!