Jul 01

Coaching Stress and Burnout

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I have been discussing coaching philosophy, athletes, and parents in the past newsletters. Let’s address another issue, namely ‘Coaching Stress and Burnout.’ It is very important to have an established coaching/program philosophy and a process in place for regular self- and program evaluation in order to become aware of- or prevent such happenings. Both symptoms can adversely affect coaching progress, success, and foremost daily living and quality delivery in training. According to research, the highest burnout rate seems to be at the beginning and toward the end of a career. During the first three years, younger coaches are eager to establish themselves and tend to ‘take on’ too much responsibility or ‘try to please’ everyone. They can’t say ‘NO’, tend to get ‘over-involved’, and then run low on energy. In later years as careers ‘wind down’, coaches may be ‘worn out’ from years of commitment, and/or lack of personal life. They are no longer motivated – they ‘hang on’ to the job. Divorce rates also increase according to research.


Herbert J. Freudenberger, the New York psychologist, who ‘coined’ the phrase ‘burnout’ in 1972, describes the specific condition: “It is an emotional state characterized by an overwhelming and enduring feeling of exhaustion or aggravation. It is the physical or emotional exhaustion that results from long-term stress or ongoing frustration, characterized by chronic fatigue as a major symptom: one feels physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. The condition develops gradually as the person’s creativity and effectiveness erode into fatigue, skepticism, and an inability to function productively. Behaviorally, the person becomes cynical, indifferent and increasingly ineffective in the job.”

Who is to blame? Traditionally, the coach is the one, who gets the blame. However, research shows that the cause lies mainly in the use of the respective management philosophy within organization (club). Is the workload intense? Does work take more time as it becomes more demanding and complex (pressure to win, need a number of national qualifiers to keep the job)? Is administrative support lacking?

Burnout is costly to both the individual and the organization! For the individual, it can lead to poor decision-making and drop in work quality, productivity, and morale. Psychosomatic symptoms of burnout include: mental fatigue, lack of sleep, lack of appetite, lack of concentration and focus, and de-motivation. Studies show that the individuals most likely to develop burnout are well educated, self-motivated and attracted to demanding jobs where the awards are high.

Traditionally, more attention has been paid to stress and tension problems experienced by athletes but often it is coaches who are under a greater amount of pressure to succeed than athletes, according to Kulmatycki and Bukowska (2007). The researchers found that the relaxation level of student coaches of individual sports was significantly higher in comparison with those of team sports. Women student coaches achieved the highest score amongst all the groups under study, both male and female. The researchers concluded that coaches of individual sports are better prepared to achieve a deeper state of relaxation. Relaxation techniques can be extremely useful in developing constructive stress management programs in all phases of coaches’ work. However, practical stress management strategies are still very limited for coaches.

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