Recently, we talked about why travel baseball kids burn out, and we discussed ways that it can be avoided. Coaches burn out, too.
I’ve never approached burnout, but I understand why it happens. It’s a perfect storm of mental and physical stress. The “job” of coach (often unpaid or low paid) can be overwhelming.
I’ve seen it happen. I’m sure you have, too.
So, why does coach burnout happen? What can coaches, and even parents, do to help prevent it?
Why Do Coaches Burn Out?
It’s no surprise that coaches burn out. Here are just a few of the contributing factors…
1. Father/Coach and Son Relationship. This is a tough one for dad coaches. I’m now coaching the youngest of my three boys, and I’m lucky that it hasn’t become a major issue.
Can you treat your son as just another player? Can your son treat you as the coach, not Dad?
For the first time, my son last year told me there were times when he thought I was talking to him as “Dad” instead of “Coach.” That one cut deep, and it forced me to reassess how I was talking to him.
It’s an emotional dynamic.
This relationship can force the child to burn out. If the child no longer wants to play, the coach is likely to follow suit. Or if the coach determines that his son is more likely to enjoy the game with another coach, he may just hang up his coaching shoes.
2. Recruiting Season. For me, it’s the worst time of the year. Decisions need to be made about who is leaving and who is coming back. Difficult conversations. You have become emotionally invested in these kids and families, and now that’s coming to an end.
Then you need to gear up to find new players. To get better. Making sure that these new players and families are a good fit. Why are they leaving their team? Are there any red flags?
You make an offer. You assume they’ll accept. Then they don’t. The cycle repeats itself.
Will you be able to fill a roster? Are families getting uneasy because it’s taking so long?
To make it worse, this all begins at the tail end of the season, when the coach is spent. It’s not an easy time.
3. Wins and Losses. There isn’t a direct correlation between wins and losses and coach burnout. It goes both ways.
When a team loses a lot of games, there is the potential of adding more stress and second-guessing to a coach. Even if the parents don’t put that pressure on the coach.
But winning doesn’t solve these problems. If a team wins a lot of games, each loss may then be put under the microscope. The pressure to win — self-imposed or otherwise — can be a lot to handle.
4. Emotional Exhaustion. The competition. The expectations. The emotional investment in each player and family. The ups and downs of a season.
It’s a lot.
5. Physical Exhaustion. We talked about how physical exhaustion can lead to burnout for kids, but it’s certainly the same for coaches. We’re old. We’re not made for this!
Jokes aside, a season is physically taxing for a coach, too. The summer gets hot. Early mornings. Lack of sleep. Three and four games in a day.
You’re not playing, but you exert a lot of physical energy. No matter what condition you’re in physically, it will wear a coach out.
6. Trying to Do Too Much. You’re the coach. You’re the recruiter. You’re the party planner. You’re the lead fundraiser. You’re the scheduler.
You do it all. You probably shouldn’t.
7. Balance with Work. You set lineups at work. You communicate with coaches and parents at work. You miss calls, texts, and emails while at games and practices.
Your performance at your job could suffer.
On the flip side, work can become too much. You have to stay late at the office. You no longer have time to do the things you need to do as an effective coach.
8. Competitive Drama. You create rivals over the years after playing each other repeatedly. Coaches and parents get too invested in the “us” vs. “them” mentality.
9. Parent Relations. Playing time concerns. Coaching philosophy disagreements. Violations of team rules. Texts and emails and phone calls. Some coaches, particularly at older ages, prohibit these types of conversations for a reason. It’s a lot.
10. Health. All of these things take us here. The coach isn’t taking care of himself. Physical and emotional stress can not only lead to coaching burnout but something far more serious.
How Can Coaches Help Prevent Burnout?
When it comes to burnout, the coach is often his own worst enemy. There are things that he can do to make it easier on himself.
1. Nurture Father/Coach/Son Relationship. Set clear boundaries and expectations with your son that when you’re on the field, you’re Coach. Also do everything in your power to treat him like any other player (no, being harder on him than other kids isn’t a good solution).
My goal has always been that an external observer should never know who my son is or whether I have a son on the team. Not due to where he plays, how I treat him (good or bad), or how he responds to me.
If your son has a difficult time dealing with this dynamic, have an assistant coach take over most of the interactions with him.
2. Define Your Role. This is something that I have gotten firmer about over the years. There was a time when I tried to do everything. No more.
I’m not a party planner. If you want a party or social event, a parent needs to plan it.
I’m not a fundraiser. If you want to run fundraisers, set up a committee and get it done. I don’t want to be part of it.
I’m the coach. Even when it comes to practices and game days, I try to distribute responsibilities among coaches. I don’t need to do it all.
3. Set Boundaries. Okay, I’m terrible at this. But try to establish times when you’re coach and times when you’re not.
Don’t allow your coaching responsibilities to interfere with your job or relationships.
4. Set Clear Expectations of Parents. This is something I continue to refine. We have a parent contract. We have had team meetings where we discuss in clear detail what is expected. Problems are most likely to occur when a coach hasn’t made rules and expectations clear.
5. Have Friends and Hobbies Outside of Baseball. I admit that I’m terrible at this. The people I spend the most time with are my family and my team (coaches, players, and parents). It’s important to disconnect from that every once in a while. I’ve failed here.
6. Take a Break. Heading into this fall, several parents and an assistant coach approached me about fall ball. At the time, I was emotionally spent from the season. Instead of agreeing to coach it, I asked the assistant coach to lead the way. He gladly took on that responsibility.
Granted, I’m still coaching this fall. But removing the thought of having to deal with fall from my brain while finishing the summer was a huge relief. Kids need breaks, and coaches do, too.
7. Take Care of Yourself. Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Meditate, if that’s your thing. Unwind.
Over the past few years, I’ve become a runner. I truly hate running, but it’s good for me. It’s good for my health. And while I’m running, I’m not able to do anything other than run and think. It’s a good opportunity to clear my mind while taking care of my heart.
How Can Parents Help?
I don’t expect parents to actively take care of their coach. That’s not their role. But there are a few things that can make your coach’s life a whole lot easier.
1. Volunteer. Whether it’s fundraising or parties or assistant coaching or scorekeeping, find ways to help out. We have a team mom who has been an ENORMOUS help to me.
2. Understand and Support Expectations. Try to understand team rules and what is expected of you. Support those expectations. They are there for a reason.
3. Appreciate Your Impact. This stuff is emotional for parents, I get it. But understand the impact that you’re capable of making, both positively and negatively. Not even directly on the coach, but on parent dynamics. Are you helping nurture a positive environment? Are you complaining to other parents? Is it necessary, deserved, and helpful?
4. Show Appreciation. Your coach doesn’t need a gift or a plaque or a party. Just say “thank you.” The ups and downs and challenges of coaching are all worthwhile when the coach knows that he and the parents are in this together.
That’s all I’ve got. What other factors contribute to coaching burnout? Any other ways you can think of to help avoid it?
Let me know in the comments below!