'Coach burnout' is an issue that is non-discriminatory, plaguing even the best of coaches from time to time. It can take weeks, months, or even years to manifest, but when work overrides living in the delicate dance we call 'work-life balance, ' burnout starts. A universal definition of 'coach burnout' ceases to exist. However, characteristics and behaviors that appear typical in most individuals battling this crisis include (but are not limited to): lack of motivation, fatigue, loss of passion, irritability, hopelessness, and depression. While the root cause of the burnout issue varies amongst individuals, there are important warning signs one should be aware of to ensure it doesn't take hold of them and tips to increase the chances of avoiding it altogether.
Burnout Warning Signs
1) Lack of Energy or Loss of Enthusiasm
As Theodore Roosevelt once said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." This sentiment could not reign any more accurate than it does in coaching. To run an effective program, much less an effective practice or strength session, the coach must set the tone with which everybody else will follow. A coach must communicate effectively, provide positive encouragement, and lead by example. Coach's experiencing burnout may lack the extra gear needed to rev up themselves and their athletes. If this is the case, the coach must either figure out why this is and solve it right away or get out as it is a major disservice to have any man or woman providing nothing but their maximum potential to those around them.
2) Loss of Passion
Mark Twain once said, "Find a job you enjoy, and you'll never work a day in your life," and he's correct. Ask yourself, 'what gets me out of bed in the morning?'. Are you looking to cash a check (if so, pick something more lucrative than coaching already!)? Or do you love helping others reach their full potential in a competitive environment that both you and they share a passion for? There's no sugar coating it, there will be tough days, and there will be a lot of work in coaching, but when you are genuinely passionate about it you will find a way to persevere. You won't be so easily deterred when something goes awry, and nothing can stop you from reaching your own goals while helping others do the same. Like the lack of energy and enthusiasm sentiment previously discussed, coaches who no longer have passion for what they are doing must get out. They must spearhead the driving force that is greatness daily. This should not be seen as a bashing of those who've lost their passion or will to coach. It's a tremendously demanding job that requires one to run at a higher RPM than most and cannot be sustained forever. Every coach must be extraordinarily self-aware and recognize when their time is up.
Fatigue can come from a lack of sleep, mental stress, physical stress, or all of the above. A demanding job like coaching can quickly accumulate fatigue in individuals who are not prepared to handle it. Sometimes it's not their fault. They find themselves caught in a weight room before the sun comes up and heading home when the sun's gone down because they lack support staff and resources while managing an entire athletic program. Only further compounded by family obligations and lack of social stimulation. With this, fatigue can come irritability, hopelessness, and depression. (I am far from a mental health expert and am in no way qualified to diagnose depression or any other mental disorder, therefore if you or a loved one feels they may need help, please contact the appropriate professionals for help). Coaches must find a way to balance their lives and be a well-rounded human being. I have been guilty of this many times thus far in my career, always pushing to do more or get 'ahead' when in reality, I'd be more productive in the long run by taking care of my mental health and my loved ones around me.
How to Avoid Burnout
1) Set Boundaries
The 'yes' man/woman will eventually become the non-existent man/woman if they fail to set personal boundaries. One of the harsh realizations in coaching is that a cookie-cutter 9-5 schedule does not exist. Coaches are the focal point of contact for parents, athletes, and administrative staff alike. No matter the hour of the day or the occasion, somebody will always need something and contact you without hesitation. It's warranted in some instances, and your response is essential, but it can wait in most cases. Remember that all humans have a finite amount of this precious resource called time. Therefore we must allocate it wisely. Your family, friends, and loved ones deserve your undivided attention when you're with them, and it's important to remember that no matter how passionate you are about what you do, your career of choice is only one part of who you are. There's a whole life to live and experience outside of the work bubble so turn your phone off, only check your email at certain times of the day, and only say yes to things you know you have time for.
Coaches know that it's important to have adequate recovery when training athletes built into programming for obvious reasons. Overtraining and under recovering leads to exhaustion and sub-optimal results. The same principle applies to work and life, yet somehow, it is often ignored. I know coaches who've gone a decade without a vacation, worked seven days a week for months on end and even slept in their office to "get ahead." At some point, you must ask yourself, are you living to work or working to live? I appreciate hard work and hustle more than most individuals and do a fair bit of it myself, but to keep the machine that is yourself operating at a high level for years to come, you must take care of yourself! Dial-in, your nutrition, get enough sleep, practice mediation, plan a vacation, tell your wife/husband and your kids you love them more, and practice saying no more often. Perhaps you're a bit of a workaholic like myself and find some of these things difficult to do more of, but I promise they will be worthwhile.
3) Never Stop Growing
Perhaps the biggest reason coaches burnout or anybody in any field for that manner is because they've stopped learning and growing. People often find a career that pays the bills provides stability, and allows them to live a comfortable life outside of work but grow increasingly stale in the work environment year after year. This happens because they aren't being challenged. They have nothing pushing them to do better. Socrates once said, "No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength which his body is capable of". Metaphorically speaking, this also applies to one's mind and occupational capabilities. Think about if you gave it your all in the time you were at work every day, continually pushing yourself to grow, what could you achieve? Time will pass no matter what. It is better to look back ten years from now knowing that you put everything you had into your work than wishing you'd done more. Sign up for that continuing education course, go to that conference, try a new coaching technique, and talk to that successful coach for guidance who've you looked up to for years. Pursue greatness daily.
While coach burnout is a real thing and something that can strike anybody at any given time, there are ways to mitigate the chances of it happening to you. A passion can turn into a prison-like sentence in terms of work if you aren't careful with your personal decisions. Work should be balanced with life, give you a purpose, and be an endless enjoyable pursuit. Everybody's journey will be different, but it is ultimately your decision for how your story goes and what you end up doing, make it a good one.