[Part three] Your coaches survival kit: 5 essentials to bring with you this season

written by Erica Quam

Teams go on powerful journeys over the course of a season. You might even think of it as an expedition.

The experiences you’ll have together will be unique - to you and your team. Only your team will truly understand the direction you're heading, the challenges you'll face, and all of the many victories you'll share along the way.

As a coach, you’ll get to know the strengths and weaknesses of your athletes - as they get to know yours. If you’re doing your job of getting them out of their comfort zones, then you’ll see your athletes at their best and at their worst. They’ll also get to see your highs and lows. This is a vulnerable position to be in as a coach!

For you to be ready for all of the learning that’s going to happen this year, it’s important to be prepared. Just like going on a backpacking trip, there are certain things you'll need to have in your pack!

(And what I know about coaches is this: if you don't have it together before the season starts, you won't have time to bring it at all.)

Equip yourself with these five key essentials to help you survive and thrive this year as a coach.

  1. Map & Compass (Vision & Values) 

  2. First Aid Kit (Plan for the Unexpected)

  3. Food & Water (Fuel yourself first)

Humans can't survive for long without food and water. And while I know this concept for you may not be as dramatic as all the survival shows out there...there's a little bit of truth to what you see on reality TV. That's why we watch those shows. We LOVE to watch people at their worst and the drama of the breaking point. Don't be one of those people this season!!!!

It may seem obvious to say...and I'm going to say it anyway: you have to be well-fueled as the leader of your team before you can do anything to help.

Lots of coaches put themselves last. They're great at helping their athletes, staff, families, and friends - yet when it comes time for them to take a day off or ask for help, they'd much rather struggle, resist, deny, and isolate.

This may not be a conscious choice, yet if you're not taking care of yourself and you're not asking for help...this is the result.

What signs should people look for when YOU'RE struggling? Are you open to someone telling you?

I had a coach who used the acronym H.A.L.T. which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. When you're in a HALT situation your basic needs aren't being met. Your ability to relate and connect with other people goes way, way, way down.


Of course you need to eat. Are you frequently? Are you eating well?

It's easy to get into the season and your healthy eating intention is the first to go out the window. You end up grabbing junk-food and snacks that actually drain your energy. You make excuses that you don't have TIME to eat well. You end the day with a beer or a glass of wine (or two or three) and wake up feeling awful the next day. You justify your actions by saying you "deserve" it - you work HARD as a coach! This isn't self care, it's self medication.

Make a plan in advance. Go to Costco. Fill your pantry and freezer a) with foods you like and b) foods that give you energy - before the season starts.

Try a food subscription. There are plenty of healthy options to choose from now. You can even select how many days of the week. Having three meals already decided for you before you get home will reduce your stress level and free you up.

Making decisions takes a lot of energy - more than any other mental activity we do. If you can DECIDE what you're gonna eat well in advance, that's energy you can put towards something else.

There's physical hunger and there's also emotional hunger. All humans have a basic need to belong and feel understood. It's easy to turn to negative people who will collude with us and justify destructive behaviors when we're feeling empty.

Have someone in your life who will help support you and hold you accountable to your goals, intentions, and the things you say you want to do. Check in with them when you feel yourself spiraling downwards to break the cycle and flip the switch.


All coaches get angry. It's a basic human emotion. It's not an excuse. It's important to understand where your anger comes from and find a way to express it in a healthy and productive way. 

Are you angry at a person, a situation, or yourself? Did something trigger your anger or has it been a slow build-up over time? Are you lashing out at people and pushing them away?

There are times you can deal with your anger in the moment and be able to calmly talk about it. Other times, you'll need a release - before you do or say something you'll regret. Maybe it's just a quick change of scenery or a breath of fresh air. Be prepared to give yourself more time if you need it: go do a workout or a nice long run. 

Set yourself up with a list of healthy, productive habits that will help you manage your anger this season. Have a go-to person to talk with: who will help you see what you can't, and offer a different perspective when you need to hear it the most.


Coaching can be an isolating profession. You're around people all day - so you might not even be aware of it.

I know this behavior really well, because I was really good at it when I coached! I didn't think anyone else would understand what I was going through. I thought I had to be the one to figure it out - or I would be seen as weak or incompetent. So I hid behind the facade that everything was fine - instead of reaching out and asking for help.

Some coaches isolate because of fears or doubts. Instead of staying connected and reaching out for help - they struggle throughout the year all by themselves.

You can't (and shouldn't) talk everything through with your head coach or assistant coach. There are things you can't take to your athletic director. Your job is in the public eye so you can't even talk to some of your closest friends.

One of the strongest, most courageous things you can do as a coach is to reach out for help and stay connected. The coaches I work with tell me the most valuable part of our work together is having the space to share what's going on with someone who listens, has their highest good in mind, and will hold everything in confidence.

Getting great support is an important behavior to model for your student-athletes. How would you like to have a coach who expected you to figure it all out by yourself? When you model great support, they'll also see that as a sign of strength - and start to do that for themselves. They might actually trust you more and connect with you at a deeper level.


When we don't allow ourselves any downtime, it can take a toll on our bodies, mind, and spirit. It's easy to ignore it. It's a normal mindset to press on.

Coaches used to wear a badge of honor on their sleeves - for being at the office all day, not taking vacation, going non-stop through the season, and straight into recruiting. 

I think that culture may be changing - at least a little bit. I've heard more and more coaches speaking up and sharing with younger coaches about the things they regret not doing enough of: taking a day off, spending more time with family, taking a REAL vacation, etc.

It's important to rest so you can fill your soul! That's why most coaches DO this. Deep down, coaches WANT to connect, build relationships, and teach. If you're running on fumes and exhausted, you aren't yourself. 

When your days are filled with practice, meetings, and activities it's easy to ignore how tired you've become. When you're energy tank is empty, you can't think as clearly.

Make sleep and rest a critical part of your routine. A good night’s sleep or a short nap may be all you need to change the trajectory of your day. If your day is full, get creative: take a short break, listen to music, go for a walk, or close your eyes and breathe for a few minutes. 

Plan some simple things to look forward to every month - take a trip to your favorite park, go to a movie theater, or a fun restaurant. Recharging your body, mind, and spirit will help you get through a long season - and help you be at your best. 

HALT can be a reminder to take care of your basic needs every day. Pause and check in with yourself each day: “Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?” 

LEAVE A COMMENT: How do you show up in a HALT situation and what's one thing you will do to help you this season?


Have you been following along? Next week I'll share the fourth essential to help you survive and thrive as a coach this season.

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