Overcome Overwhelm Before Your Season Gets Even Busier

written by Erica Quam

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Here are few things I've heard from coaches this week...I'm wondering if you can relate?

  • "I'm so overwhelmed. I have so much to do. I don't have enough time to get it all done!!!"

  • "I'm running around...I can't even find time to eat. I'm trying not to bite someone's head off!"

  • "Things are falling through the cracks. There aren't enough hours in the day. I'm freaking out!"

That's why, when I work with coaches, one of the first things we do during our work together is begin to implement strategies and habits that help you reduce the number of days when you feel completely overwhelmed. 

Because here's the thing...if you're a coach, overwhelm is not going to ever go away.

Imagine...the coach...who sits back in her chair, stretches out her legs, crosses her feet up on her desk with her hands behind her head and says,

"Woo hoo! I'm not overwhelmed! Everything is out of my inbox, I've made all the decisions I need to make, and things are running on autopilot! This job rocks! It's SO easy!"

Think about it. That's never going to happen!

That's because you're a coach.

You're in charge of a team. You have to plan and figure out your practice schedule, travel schedule, team retreats, training camps, team meetings, captain's meetings, competition schedule, and how it all fits into the academic schedule. Then you actually have to write the workouts, create your line up, strategize a game plan, and show up with enough energy leftover to actually coach your team.

You're in charge of recruiting. You have to figure out who you're going to recruit, where you're going to recruit, and exactly how you're going to recruit. Then you actually have to deliver - to get people committed to come to your school.  Even then your job isn't over. Once they commit, you have to keep them committed - until they set foot on your campus all the way through until they graduate. 

You're in charge of your staff. You have to figure out who you're going to hire, how they can help you, and what exactly they will do. Then, you actually have to be in a relationship (hopefully it's a good relationship) with them throughout the season - by meeting with them, mentoring them, and coaching them to do what you need.  

Maybe you're in charge of your partner (or you have at least some say...if you're in a relationship), your kids (if you have a family), your pets (if you have them), and yourself (if you have any time or energy left.)

Believe it or not...the sooner you can accept that overwhelm is a normal part of what you do as a coach, the less energy you'll waste, the better outlook you'll have, and the more freedom you'll experience.

There are habits and practices that can help you make total overwhelm a 'not an every single day thing'. You can reduce the number of days when you're just truly fighting to keep your head above water!

My goal - when working with coaches - is to help you get to a place where you feel more confident in managing your own power. This involves two things: 1) strategy and 2) energy. 

How coaches are wired

  • You're inspired and have a lot of great ideas of things you'd like to do with your team

  • You get distracted by all the unexpected things that come up for you to deal with in the moment

  • You have to be able to adjust to a lot of moving parts - different people and personalities

Most coaches aren’t totally wired for all the planning, decision-making, and follow through that the other part of your job requires.

You may have even heard that at other points in your life - in school, from teachers, other coaches, or maybe even your parents. Over the years, you may have gotten the message from someone...behave differently.

I'm not one of those people.

I think it’s important to work within the parameters of who you are and how you’re wired.

It's why I work with coaches to help you delegate projects to someone else, or learn ways to approach parts of your job in a more strategic way, and hire staff who will help you in those areas you're not so great at....so you're not totally spinning your wheels by wasting time and energy.

One of the worst things you can do for yourself is to be hard yourself for how you're wired. It’s not bad to have lots of great ideas, deal with things in the moment, and be focused on the here and now.

And when you get hit with overwhelm...it’s usually not that you have so much to do…it’s all the shame comes up along with it.

You feel bad about yourself because you haven’t gotten it all done….you don't have it all planned out like you wanted. You have all kinds of should’s, have to's, and comparisons swirling around.

Most coaches just want a sense of autonomy. (My coach describes it as 'spiritual Rain-Ex'.)

Autonomy helps you have a vision and sense of purpose. Move through your day with a conscious intention - of who you want to be and how you want to act (and react) when challenges come up.  It's not allowing the agendas of other people to ruin how you feel about yourself at the end of the day.

Show up, coach with integrity, live by your values, and do your best.

There are times during the season when you’ll still be running around, multitasking, shooting from the hip, making it up as you go along, and just barely getting things done.

Even then, you have a choice. You can stay stuck in that same old story of overwhelm or you can have the self awareness to say to yourself...."I'm doing it again..." then take a deep breath and decide to try something different. 

Four reasons coaches get overwhelmed:

1. Too much input (and not enough space)

One of the things I talk about at the summit are the 5 phases of coaching. Some coaches need to let go of some of the shame of all of the should’s and have to’s. Stop comparing yourself to other coaches who have been doing it for 30+ years. 

There’s a learning curve and an experience curve to coaching. You can get better at it. You develop strategies for the things that don't go well. You develop systems for the things that you do and say over and over again. 

If you have a lot criticism and resistance coming at you - from athletes, parents, alumni, administrators, or even your own coaching staff - it's easy to get overwhelmed. That's input. 

If you don't have the space to process that kind of input...and to figure out what's theirs and what's yours...decide what you need to stand up for and where you may need to make an adjustment...it's hard not to be overwhelmed.

2. Too many experiences (and not enough reflection)

This happens to coaches who don't take any time to stop and reflect between the major benchmarks of your season and before the next season starts. If you never pause long enough to actually evaluate your results, how will you know what worked (that you need to keep doing), what didn't work (that you need to change), and what else you can incorporate (to take things to the next level)?

This can also happen when coaches are constantly are reading books, going to conferences, listening to podcasts, and binging on twitter, instagram, or Facebook.

It's like when you walk your dog down the street and she sees a squirrel. Your brain is constantly getting stimulated by another bright shiny object. Your brain loves this kind of channel surfing! Your athletes - on the other hand - may end up confused and overwhelmed by the random tangents you pull them down over the course of a season.

3. High expectations (and not enough imperfection)

Coaches have high expectations. And I’m all for high expectations. Sometimes these high expectations can actually be harmful! 

If you find yourself getting stuck in perfection paralysis...or you're trying to be so perfect that no one can say anything bad about you...and how hard you're trying and how much work you're putting in...forget it.

People will still criticize you. That's just the way people are.

Take a breath! Give yourself a little room to improve. We are all just a work in progress. At the end of the day, you know how hard you're working and how hard you're trying. Don't let anyone else's opinion of you take that away. 

4. Too many new behaviors (all at once)

I see this happen for first year head coaches and coaches who transition into a new position. They hit the ground running. There's SO much change - all at once. There's a lot of adapting. There's a lot of uncertainty. It takes SO much energy (and you don't even realize it).

This one hit me hard as a first year head coach. Someone congratulated me and they literally said to me, "Congratulations on your new head coaching job! You won't sleep for a month!" And they were right. I had so much I wanted to get done. My brain was always working - even at night. I couldn't shut it off! I couldn't decide what to prioritize because EVERYTHING was important and needed to be done YESTERDAY!

You have to give yourself a little bit of a break. You need to allow yourself the time to figure out what you'll prioritize. You can't expect yourself to incorporate a laundry list of new behaviors and be able to do them all perfectly the first year.

Overwhelm is a habit. It's a story. All of these behaviors add up to our overwhelm. We’ve been conditioned to doing this for years.

Are you tired of being overwhelmed and ready to do it differently?

Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. The mind is a superb instrument when used correctly. When used incorrectly, the mind uses you.
— Eckhart Tolle

Here are two action steps to take to turn overwhelm into momentum.

  1. The first action step is reactive: something to do in the moment...when you're feeling overwhelmed.

  2. The second action step is proactive: a habit to start...to keep you from getting so overwhelmed.

1) REACTIVE: the minute you catch yourself in reactive mode...or as soon as you can once you're aware of being overwhelmed...do a 'brain dump'.

Take out a blank sheet of paper and literally write down everything that’s on your mind. Write for ten minutes. Write down everything. All the organization you should have done by now, things you've forgotten to do until now, things that are bugging you about other people - write down those too. They're taking up space. Write down any little thought that's rambling around up in your brain. Even if it doesn't make sense.

As simple as this sounds, once you do the brain dump, you'll probably start to feel better. There's no right or wrong way to do it. I do like to write it down - because I think that helps me more. And I've also felt better typing it all out. You'll figure out your way of doing it that helps you the most.

Part of the reason you’re overwhelmed is because your brain is not a storage device. Your brain is an amazing part of you…and if you don’t give yourself any space to process things, your thoughts will get out of control and your brain will stop doing what it does best - find solutions.

Once you write it all down, you may see patterns - things you can group together. You may see themes - self judgements and criticisms. You may find things you can cross off, hand off, delegate, and get off your plate. You'll figure it out from there.

2. PROACTIVE: This is a daily habit. Before you leave to go home each day, take a moment to answer three questions: what went well (celebrate), what didn’t go well (reflect), what can I do differently tomorrow (strategy)?

So many times, we head home - reeling from the one conversation that didn’t go well. We walk into the house and we're still reacting...blurting it out to whoever will listen. Maybe you had 5 other amazing things happen that day. Unfortunately, those didn't even make it onto your radar.

When you get into a pattern of coming home in reactive mode it's easy to also slip into blame, judgement, and criticism of others. You end up in flight or flight mode - like you're a victim being hunted by some kind of saber toothed tiger! This isn't you at your best.

Clean things up before you go home. When you're at home, be present at home. This will help you listen and share about your day - so your friends and family will want to listen and share too.

Make this an unbreakable habit for yourself.

If you can't commit to doing it daily…try doing it weekly. Try writing it down. Commit a time to do it and actually schedule it in your calendar. Set a timer for 5 minutes.

I know that this article won't change the amount of stuff you have on your plate. It won't eliminate any of the things you still need to check off your to-do list.

I do hope, however, that these two action steps can help you reduce the number of days you feel completely paralyzed by overwhelm this season.

Once you’ve tried one of these two steps, leave me a comment - for some accountability - that you’ve actually done it. What’s one thing you noticed or gained from this simple assignment?