What most coaches won't tell you about loneliness

written by Erica Quam

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Tammy is a coach I've worked with the past four years - starting the season after she was fired from her job as a head coach.

The circumstances were complex. There were major issues that her athletic director was dealing with - title IX compliance, pressure from the president to significantly reduce spending, legal battles within the department, NCAA compliance issues...things were a mess. The culmination of the entangled web of problems boiled down to her team being cut the following season. Thus, she was out of a job.

She wasn't sure what she would do at first. Leave coaching? She wondered 'who would ever hire me again...after having the stigma of being fired?' Sure, it wasn't her fault...it wasn't performance based...at all. And still...she worried, 'how can I possibly explain my unique circumstances every time I call about a position or even put in an application?'

Tammy felt incredibly alone.

Coaches aren't bulletproof. You need meaningful connections and support you can count on - just like any other human!


Research done on elite sport coaches has shown how a wide range of stressors lead to isolation

1) Institutional demands. Coaches are under pressure from their school. Athletic directors have hired coaches TO WIN. 

2) Athlete (and parent) expectations. Coaches are under more scrutiny than ever before...with some athletes texting their parents several times a day - examining every meeting, discussion, and decision you make. That's stressful!

3) Self-imposed pressure. If you're like most coaches I work with, you put more pressure on yourself than anyone else. You're always supposed to have the right answers and the confidence to back you up. 


We experience loneliness when we feel disconnected. Maybe we’ve been pushed to the outside of a group that we value, or maybe we’re lacking a sense of true belonging. At the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interactions - an intimate relationship, friendships, family gatherings, or even community or work group connections.
— Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

It's not weak or wrong to admit there are lonely times for coaches during the season. I see it all the time. Yet, coaches rarely get opportunities to talk about it.

- Maybe you're a head coach...you feel the pressure to make all the 'right' decisions. You can't talk to your assistant coach about how challenging your job is...because they look to you to lead them. 

- Maybe you're an assistant coach...you feel lonely and want a better relationship with your head coach. There are things you'd like to ask, times when you'd like to be asked your opinion, or have your idea validated...for a change.


In fact, it's normal to experience loneliness as a coach - during points of your career and even parts of your season. 

I hear it all the time from coaches.

It's usually not until you're actually given an opportunity to talk about how you're really doing that you even realize this is what you're feeling. That's because throughout the season, you're expected to be at the top of your game and keep it together.


1. Reach out and connect

Whether you have big issues or small challenges during the season...don't struggle through them all by yourself. Ask for help. Connect with people and resources who will support you along the way. 

  • Become a member of organizations like The Alliance of Women Coaches 
  • Go have a cup of coffee with other coaches in your department
  • Find a coach or mentor you can talk to - regularly
  • Come to a women's coaching summit (with me) in the Pacific Northwest!

2. Stand up and stand out

Two things that hold coaches back from getting the support they need are money (and fear of asking for money) and time (and guilt of taking the time).

(Hint: It's easier to say you can't afford something or you don't have time...so you don't actually have to get out of your comfort zone. I only bring it up because most coaches don't realize they do this.)

MONEY: Professional development is something athletic departments may very well cut out of your budget. It's a very real possibility. (NOTE: I'll save my opinion of this decision for another post).


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If your boss or athletic director tells you no - to an opportunity or a resource you're asking for - it's the green light for you to step up as a leader! Look for creative ways to get the support you need to be the best coach and person you can be.

I'm not saying it'll be easy. I've had plenty of coaches who have told me they couldn't afford to come to a women's coaching summit. When I've dug a little deeper, I learn many of them hadn't asked. And, I get it. It can be scary to put yourself out there...and ask for something you want. It's risky and vulnerable. 

There's a lot of fear - fear of rejection, fear of saying the wrong thing, fear of asking for too much, and fear of not being worthy. 

The coaches who have mustered up the courage to have a hard conversation with their boss, SWA, conference liaison, alumni, or parents - have often found there are more resources and possibilities out there than they ever imagined! Coaches often find that most people WANT them to learn, grow, and be inspired...because it helps EVERYONE! 

TIME: Most coaches say that they're already sooooooooooooooo busy. "I don't have time to do personal development." And, I get that too. I know you're busy. (I've been there.) AND...the coaches I work with who take time to plan better, communicate better, and work smarter actually have more time to do the other things they love to do. 

And there's guilt - guilt of leaving families or kids behind (again), guilt of doing something the guys don't get to do, and guilt of actually putting yourself first.

Female coaches are leaving this amazing profession...because they feel lonely and isolated. It's time to change that!

If you're reading this...I'm going to put out a challenge to you: start today to ask for the specific things you want and need that will help you tap into your full potential...as the leader you are. You deserve it!

Write one thing you'll commit to do in the comments below.

Do you need some help or support to do this? Send me an email. I ALWAYS keep it confidential. Let's brainstorm ways to get you the support you need.