What Most Coaches Won't Share About Loneliness

I started working with Tammy the season after she was fired from her job as a head coach.

Circumstances were complex. Her athletic director was dealing with pressure to reduce spending, legal battles within the department, NCAA compliance issues...things were a mess. The entangled web of problems led to her team being cut. 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?'

It wasn't her fault. It wasn't performance based.

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!

COACHING IS ISOLATING

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, make the right decisions, and have the confidence to back it up. 

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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 at one of the top programs in the country and yet, 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. 

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.]

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What Most Coaches Won't Share About Loneliness

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.

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Five Reminders From my first year as a head coach

I still remember my very first day of work at Washington State University. I was a 26 year old first-year head coach. I showed up in my boss's office on July 1st, 2002 at 8am, sharp - my backpack on, coffee in hand, ready to be put through my paces. I was wide-eyed and ready to learn the ropes.

My boss welcomed me into her office. Then, she introduced me to her assistant who gave me keys to my office and a brief checklist - to get my email setup, schedule my faculty orientation, and other 'new person' logistics. 

I walked into my dark new office that had blank walls and an empty desk. I didn't even have a computer yet. So, I sat there for a few minutes and just stared forward. "Well, now what, Quam?," I asked myself. "What have you gotten yourself into?"

Here are 5 reminders I now share with new head coaches to support them through this transition:

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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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What most coaches won't tell you about loneliness

Tammy is a coach I've been working with over 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!

Read More