Timeout Q&A: Blueprint For Dealing With Coaching Burnout

Purpose2Play:  It happens. Like athletes, coaches can get burnt out, too. What are some good indicators that you need a break from coaching?

Dr. Cheri Toledo: With the increases in year-round programs and the heightened levels and intensity of competition, coach burnout is more common than we would guess. Let’s start by defining burnout: mental and emotional fatigue. Unfortunately, the excessive stress that coaches find themselves dealing with can result in burn out.  It can show up physically as stomach problems, aches and pains, fitful sleep patterns, and ineffective coping responses.  As we all know, stress – in this case burn out – can effect our ability to concentrate and make decisions; it might even impact our memory. Coaches experiencing burn out might even feel guilt because they don’t feel able to perform their duties up to their normal standards – sometimes, though, those standards are based on perfectionism, so this is a good time to remind yourself that the process should be the focus, not a perfect coaching, which is neither attainable nor necessary. Coupled with a lower levels of passion for coaching, emotional exhaustion can cause frequent mood changes and even depression, which, in turn, can lead to isolating ourselves and thus feeling alienated from people. As you can see, it’s all connected and it can become a downward spiral. It is common to have ups and downs in our coaching, so don’t panic … getting frustrated when your expectations aren’t being met is not a sign that you are burned out. What you do want to look out for that overwhelming, consistent, and pervasive fatigue, heightened anxiety, and depression.

Purpose2Play: If I think I’m getting I’m burned out, what can I do?

Dr. Cheri Toledo: If the descriptors of burn out are sounding very familiar and you recognize yourself in many of them, then it’s time to take a step back and try these strategies.

First, take some time to reflect on your body, emotions, and interactions with others. If you are feeling wiped out and don’t have the energy to get through the day or you’ve noticed that you’re snapping at people, losing your temper quickly, or just giving up on people and yourself, then it’s time to take a break. In fact, I suggest that you start every day with a morning routine that sets you up for a successful day. First of all, avoid the technology – that’s right, no phones, computers, or TV’s for the first 10 minutes of the day. Use this quiet time to check in with your thoughts and feelings. Some people use this time for prayer, some meditate, and others just sit quietly. Keep a journal and record what comes up during that time.  We all need a quiet time where we make our thoughts and feelings our first priority. Filling our days and nights with constant noise take a toll on us mentally, physically, and emotionally, so take those 10 minutes and give your brain some peace and quiet. Make sure that you are balancing your eating, working out, and sleeping well – set up a plan that fits your schedule and helps you optimize the benefits of each. It is imperative that you make down time a priority; it’s not an add-on and it’s not an option if you want to avoid burn out.

Second, build a support network. Connect yourself with friends, both in and out of your sport, who will help you stay healthy and balanced. When you feel stressed or isolated, take a few minutes and call or text someone. Set up a weekly breakfast or lunch meeting with a friend or group of friends. Get involved in a coaching organization and attend clinics and conferences. Staying connected with others in your sport will help you keep your coaching fresh while being with people who are dealing with the same issues, frustrations, and challenges.
Third, do some healthy delegating. Sometimes we burn out because we think we’re the only ones who can do things the right way. You, your assistant coaches, and your players will all benefit from a variety of perspectives and approaches. Share the phone calling or emailing duties; collaborate on creating practices; let your assistant coach arrange the travel details – you get the idea. By delegating some of your coaching tasks and duties you are helping yourself balance your professional and personal life. Think back to the goals that you’ve set for yourself – if you haven’t set any goals, then this is the perfect time. Sit down with your coaching staff and players and set the team goals and help them set their personal goals. From there everyone can more clearly see their roles within the team system. It will help you keep things in perspective and more freely share the responsibilities of the program.

Last … Laugh! Watch a video on YouTube that used to make you laugh out loud. Meet up with that friend from college who cracks you up. Pull out that old movie on DVD that you’ve watched 20 times and can’t keep from laughing at. Whatever it take, give yourself some comic relief.

Purpose2Play: How can a coach recharge during the break?

Dr. Cheri Toledo: As a Personal Development Coach, I have my clients complete two lists: 100 Things I Love to Do and 50 Things I Loved to Do as a Kid. I have them to go to a quiet place, with pen and paper, and start writing their 100 List. No questioning or judging, they just write down everything that comes to mind. In our next session we talk about the themes and discuss the activities they no longer participate in and what it would be like to reconnect with those activities. Next, they write their 50 Things list. We process that list in the same way. This process can help us recharge, because one of the signs and causes of burnout is a lack of reflection. So during the break, coaches should be doing some of the things that they really love to do, but didn’t do during the season. Reconnecting with those old favorites will be rejuvenating and refreshing – play like you did as a kid, free and with wild abandon – most importantly … don’t think too much, just be for a while.
It can also be helpful to reevaluate personal and professional goals. Determine the degree to which each goal was met or not met.  Decide what needs to be changed and how to make adjustments to see those changes come about. Reflect what you learned during the season that was the most useful or valuable in helping you meet your goals. Read books, watch TEDTalks and videos, and listen to interviews to glean insights into the habits, attitudes, and mindsets of successful coaches, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

Purpose2Play: What if after taking time off, a coach finds that his or her passion for coaching hasn’t returned. How does one cope with that?

Dr. Cheri Toledo: If this is the case, then it’s time to take a sabbatical. If that’s not possible, then it’s definitely time for help. Find a counselor, sports psychologist, or a personal development/mindset coach to help you process what’s going on, develop a stress management plan, and give you feedback as you implement your plan. That person will help you determine what you need to do to readjust your mood, energy levels, and mindset.  This is also a good time for reflection – journaling can be helpful – focus on what appealed to you about coaching, what you are getting out of coaching now, and what you have to offer your players and staff. Ask yourself what has changed and determine if and how you can get back to where you really love coaching again.  Be brutally honest with yourself and have the courage to face the truth … especially if that truth is that it’s time to retire from coaching.

Kim Constantinesco

Kim Constantinesco

As the founder and editor-in-chief of Purpose2Play.com, Kim Constantinesco dives under the surface hype to illuminate heroes in the sports world. Whether talking with the first man with cerebral palsy to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro, or the first woman to mountain bike across Afghanistan, Kim has a keen interest in shining the spotlight on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. She believes it's time media starts placing a higher value on the people and communities who are actively doing something to make the world a little better. Previously, she covered the Denver Broncos and the NFL for seven seasons. Her work has been featured on NFL.com, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, The New York Times, and USA Today. She resides in Denver, CO. When not working, she can be found deep in the Rocky Mountains throwing backflips on her snowboard. Follow Kim on Twitter: @KimCon14
Kim Constantinesco

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