Coaching burnout is an interesting topic because there are so many different directions this conversation could go.
- Coaches burnout from the grind of the career (e.g. relocating, pay scale, politics)
- Coaches burnout from losing
- Coaches burnout from time-commitment
- Coaches burnout from the stress of competition
The stigma surrounding mental health in sports is starting to deteriorate as many athletes are courageously stepping forward to share their stories. Coaches on the other hand, still tend to be a little bit more guarded when it comes to opening up about these sorts of issues, myself included. There is an article from the L.A. Times about stress and the NBA coach that is worth the read. At the very least it sheds some light on a topic that is likely prematurely dismissed because of the inherent stubbornness of a coach, or the insecurity that we feel for being perceived as soft.
So, this isn’t necessarily a story of burnout, but how the stress of the profession can sometimes get the best of us. I am certainly no different and consistently try to have conversations with my wife (and myself) on how I can improve mentally to be healthier physically. In some way, hopefully, it stimulates reflection or comfort for any other coach that has gone through difficult stretches during a season.
A couple years ago, I missed practice for the first time in my coaching career.
Difficulty breathing after a closely contested loss – I didn’t think much of it. I always come home to the serenity of seeing my wife, where we usually have a beverage and a conversation revolving around the game. It started the same, but I felt as if I couldn’t speak. I started to become fidgety with growing discomfort in my chest, down my back, and into my arm. Full-disclosure, I have dealt with anxiety issues before in my life (I think everyone does to some extent). And I’m not quite the poster child for Dove’s comfort in your own skin; this felt different.
After eventually gathering myself for the night I woke up with similar sensations in my body the following day. Something did not feel right and after having conversations with family I decided to go to the ER. Following multiple evaluations and tests, mum was the word. Sitting in the waiting room for hours in between initial observation, chest x-rays, and follow-up examinations I decided to tell my wife to head home as she – a coach of her own – had to get back to campus. Minutes after she left I was called back where the doctor told me they had a bed waiting for me and would hook me up to a monitor. Instantaneously, my mind began to race. With limited information I was asking for clarification and refused the bed; instead, the hospital attendants offered a chair outside in the hallway until the doctor arrived. The results were articulated to me but to be honest I wasn’t in the best place mentally to retain anything at the moment. From what I gathered, the medical personnel attributed my discomfort from a combination of working out and stress. The reason why my visit lasted so long was initial concern from a believed false-positive EKG that suggested that one of my valves was working a little bit harder than the others.
I tell you this story because coaching basketball is a passion of mine. And likely a passion of yours, or else I would not expect any of you all to be reading this random blog. I love being involved in the game. I love the maturation process of an athlete investing in themselves. But, damn it can take a toll. Coaching can become an unhealthy obsession. And we haven’t even talked about #LosingStreaks yet, that can lead to a whole other can of worms.
“Every coach wants to win and every player wants to win, but one of the difficult things about being a coach at an amateur level is deciding the degree to which you want to win games versus everything else you want to do as a coach.” – Basketball on Paper
#CoachingBurnout can be attributed from two things:
- Disproportionate prioritization
- Investment without results
There is more from the excerpt above that discusses the irony of being in a results-driven industry while consistently emphasizing the value of the process. In other words, at some point, the results have got to improve or the process is perceived as simply not working. With coaching, there is a lot of preparation that goes into that process. From that preparation, there is an expectation for execution, and our optics of what happens in between those two points reflect the balance of our priorities. So, burnout, in my opinion, is when the focal point of results supersede the process and when the amount of time (passion) spent seems becomes less satisfying because it fails to meet expectations.
*I’d be remiss if we didn’t suggest that this is not limited solely to on-the-court performances, as we all understand how off the court distractions play an integral role in program success/frustrations.*
— Coach’s Climb (@CoachsClimb) February 14, 2020
So, how we can avoid it?
Did you read the anecdote from above, I have no idea. I wrote this because I am still trying to figure out myself. What I will tell you is that I have taken a more concentrated effort to separate results from our attempt to simply improve on a consistent basis. Do I get frustrated during games? Absolutely. Cliche, as it may be but my focal point, is to focus less on the foreseeable events and more on the management of my response. Patience plus positivity. It has been written on my hand prior to every game this season as a simple reminder to try and be present. This is not to be confused with the misconception that simply because we practice results will take care of themselves. I’m not a big believer in that assertion because I think that there has to highly-concentrated consistency in development in order for the results to occur favorably, and frequently. However, it is again a matter of thinking less about the future and learning from the past to be at your best in the present type of deal.
Some days I am better at it than others, but other ways that I have found either as therapeutic or helpful to either separate away from the game or relax:
- Reduce coffee intake
- Read – Brain stimulation seems to put me in a positive mindset
- Talk with my wife
- Good cardio – run or a long walk
The NCAA has plenty of resources for more information. I would simply encourage anyone dealing with stress or discomfort to simply attempt to address either through self-reflection, significant other, and/or professional.