It is mid-January, you just lost to the cross-town rival by a last-minute bucket. To make matters worse you play the number one team in your conference tomorrow night. As you drive home you remember your principal is coming to observe your classroom tomorrow for your last observation of the year. Then to top it all off, you have morning bus duty this semester. Welcome to the life of a high school basketball coach! These are the situations that lead to the stressful situation known as “Coaching Burnout.” Burnout is defined as…
“a syndrome with three dimensions…The first dimension is emotional exhaustion, which is seen as the core dimension and defined as exhaustion due to prolonged work life stress…Depersonalization is the second dimension, focusing on how the individual distances her-/himself from recipients or students and ignores the things that make them human. This is seen as a defense mechanism…Third, lack of personal accomplishment relates to perceived accomplishments, when both doing tasks at work and handling recipients/students” (Lundkvist et al., 2014, p.210).
The objective of this article is to look at all three dimensions and give you tools to prevent burnout in each category (from this point on no complicated wording will be used). For the sake of this publication, we will define each of the three definitions as…
The coaching year can be a long haul. Summer workouts, tryouts, scrimmages, practices games, scouting, film, and many other coaching requirements. These can take a toll on the coach, their family, their players, and anyone associated with the coach. As coaches we are perfectionists by nature (Malone & Rotella, 1981). This exhaustion leads to sleep deprivation, lack of energy, and various health issues (weight gain and blood pressure). To prevent look for ways to prevent exhaustion, I consulted with Dr. Megan Buning, a certified mental performance coach from Florida State University who is responsible for teaching and developing courses in the FSU COACH program. Dr. Buning talked about her own experiences with exhaustion. Her focus was learning how to separate work and life. She created boundaries between work (coaching and teaching) and family. What that looks like is leaving the phone in the other room, enjoying dinner or down time with the family. Getting outside and taking a walk or just having an enjoyable conversation with your significant other, kids, or even the dog to clear your mind from the day’s work. The team can survive without you for a few hours an evening, this is something I always must tell myself as well. Being more attuned to family and friends during your season can provide the positive energy during the season to keep going. As a recommendation to read more on being present check out Jay Shetty Think Like a Monk.
Within exhaustion is the time management piece. An easy solution to time management is to allow assistants to have a larger ownership piece to the team. I am not talking just scouts, or stat sheets. I am talking about running practice, installing offense or defense, giving them major talks within the program. Craig Berube, Head coach of the St. Louis Blues just focuses on his leadership group and individual players. He motivates the team, makes sure they all focus on the team and has meetings with players daily. He allows his assistants to manage all the other aspects of the team (offense, defense, drills, lineups, rest, etc.…) (Bourne, 2020).
My challenge to you this season is to allow an assistant to run one aspect of the team, just one (dip a toe in the water) and ALLOW yourself to TRUST what they are doing under your supervision. Report back to me in February with how much of a load that was taken off your plate, and if you want to be super over the top, let them take over offense and defense. That is higher-level thinking and gets you a better review on your end of the year review from the principal!
One of my favorite quotes was found during Sunday Night Football last year. The Minnesota Vikings were on and they said Bill Parcells told Mike Zimmer about the trials and tribulations of being a head coach, he stated, “It’s not glamorous, it’s a very lonely job, and people don’t understand that” (Graham, 2013). With the distance piece coaches lock themselves in rooms watching film, have coaches meeting after coaches meeting, they do not eat, they come to bed late, and they miss huge family milestones. Bruce Arians, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has a unique rule in the win-now mentality of the NFL. He instituted a rule with his coaches, “miss your kids’ events and you’re fired” (Perry, 2019). Do not neglect time from family during the season but be creative with how to involve them in your coaching. Dr. Bunting believes you should bring the kids to practice. Closing that distance gap between family, friends and team during the season can eliminate burnout on a large scale. I make sure that when a relative or a friend attends a game, we always go out after the game for a meal or a drink and just enjoy each other’s company.
The distance can be felt by your players as well. To eliminate the distance between your players and you allow for a morning meal once a week. Vic Schaefer, current Head Coach at the University of Texas Women’s Basketball, has his players “sign in daily” at his door. They check in and make sure they are prepared for the day. A good friend of mine from Wheatmore High School, Pete Kilcullen, implemented this with his players, and he said it brought him a smile every morning. That last night loss was no longer on his mind. To eliminate the distance, remember everyone around you wants to see you succeed, but they also want you to be content and healthy. So do not distance these people but bring them closer. This past season we only had seven players and due to covid and injuries we sometimes only dressed six players. But we laughed at practice, we enjoyed each other’s company, and despite the fact the season was not successful we did not experience any burnout due to being there for each other.
Within distance I believe that working on your hobbies and incorporating breaks into the season will help you stay away from burnout. During the season we focus so much on every aspect of the season. Around when your season starts, start a new project outside of the season. This could be playing video games, reading a book, writing in a journal, arts, and crafts, or building something around the house. These ideas can allow you to focus on other tasks so that your mind is not on why your baseline out of bounds play has not worked all season. The second idea would be to incorporate breaks into the season. I know high school coaches love a good Thanksgiving or Christmas Tournament due to the level of teams playing, and the experience for our players. I suggest giving them these times off and fill the schedule at other areas, a Saturday game, or three games a week occurrences during the season. We all become energized after a little break and with basketball the Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks allow a perfect pause within the season. Give the players time off, remember we are coaching players who can miss a practice here and there and the results will still be the same. Giving a player a Friday off also gives you a Friday off to go enjoy dinner with friends or family, or in my case go play bingo with my mom. By adding these breaks into the season families can also plan mini vacations that will not interfere with your schedule, so plans these breaks ahead of time.
How can I sit here and talk to you, after going 0-19 and tell you I had a great time coaching this past season? My trick for eliminating burnout was to focus on small goals. In seventeen of our nineteen games the players left everything on the floor. Down the stretch we only had six players in some games, but I could not complain about their effort. To feel a sense of accomplishment when there are negatives all around you set daily goals. Each morning I write down three goals or objectives for the day. Have I completed a perfect twenty-one for twenty-one yet, no, but it allows me to focus on things to keep me energized and on track. Dr. Tammy Sheehy, Certified Mental Performance Coach, and professor at Bridgewater College, believes you need to find their passion in the sport to eliminate burnout. Defining your passion could be your why, or your team objectives for the season, or just a daily goal for yourself to remain positive despite all that is affecting you during the season. Then once that passion runs out, you need to take a break from coaching to rejuvenate yourself in the offseason. Coaches can go on vacation, or play some golf, find something that takes your mind completely off the sport you coach because you earned it through the months of the season. When looking for the sense of accomplishment stay away from the negative coaches on campus. Find yourself a great support group of positive coaches, friends, or significant others. You will end up going down a large hole of negativity if you are always complaining about your team, which also goes back to the relationships being built in the distance portion of burnout.
Coaching burnout is something that has become more of an issue with the acceptance of mental health issues within sport. It is acceptable to feel tired and stressed about your role as a coach. This should never be a crippling issue. Follow these tips provided to help you eliminate burnout from your coaching. If you all have any questions or would like to discuss this further, feel free to contact me. I have also worked on creating a mental performance curriculum for a coach if you would like to take your coaching to the next level (free of charge). I wish you all nothing but the best of luck in your upcoming seasons and thank you so much for reading my article!
Bourne, J. (2020, April 4). Bourne: The key to coaching success? Giving assistants ‘leeway to run things.’ The Athletic.
Graham, T. (2013, November 10). Coaching: A demanding and stressful job. Buffalo News.
Lundkvist, Erik & Stenling, Andreas & Gustafsson, Henrik & Hassmén, Peter. (2014). How to Measure Coach Burnout: An Evaluation of Three Burnout Measures. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science. 18. 209-226.
Malone, C. J., & Rotella, R. J. (1981). Preventing Coaching Burnout. Journal of Physical Education and Recreation, 52(9), 22–22.
Perry, T. (2019, August 9). Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians clearly has his priorities straight with this zero-tolerance rule. Upworthy.