Coaching burnout

Karen CoffinIn today’s climate of overemphasis on winning, burnout of kids and coaches is at an epidemic level. “Burnout” happens when a person has so much stress from working too long and too hard under too much pressure that they give up doing the job entirely. It is no longer worth the cost to the person’s mental, emotional and physical health.
I’ve written a lot about the risk to kids. Today, let’s look at coaches.

Most of the coaches I know are caring people who truly desire to help kids succeed in sports. Many were athletes themselves and want to continue participating in a sport they love. Coaches in youth sports often are volunteers or receive a salary that doesn’t begin to approach minimum wage if one counts all the hours they put in. Certainly, it is not the money that motivates them.
They dream of helping kids learn to love a sport and play it well. Being called, “Coach” is a term of respect. Most men and women in the profession devote a big part of their day to helping kids and are glad to do so. Their expectations are that coaching will be fun and rewarding. It’s a huge commitment, but it can be a great experience to be a positive influence in a child’s life.
With all the desire people have to be in this profession, we should not be lacking for coaches in the many youth leagues in this country. But we are. Schools and recreational programs are often desperate for help. It is becoming difficult to keep coaches active for more than a few years. The reasons they give for stopping are most likely, “It’s no fun anymore” or “It’s not worth the hassle.”
Why? Most troubling; why are some of the best ones burning out? There are some universal reasons. One is the pressure to win and win big. People tend to judge coaches strictly on their won/loss record. Good coaches know that there is a lot more to working with kids than the scoreboard results, but it’s a constant fight to keep the intangibles important.
A coach’s every move is analyzed and discussed and criticized. His or her good intentions are not enough to satisfy critics. Putting the whistle around your neck puts a bull’s-eye on your back. People’s expectations are very high and there is not much tolerance for mistakes. In many sports, the season has stretched into a year round job. A coach’s own family life is challenged by the commitment.
Parental interference is a big issue. Parents want the best for their kids — not an unreasonable thing. However, when the “best” is at the expense of another player, it becomes a problem for the coach. Lack of playing time is the most prevalent complaint. There are many other issues and I’m sure readers can identify additional ones. The situation can become unsettling to the entire team family, especially if it becomes contentious.
Some parents feel entitled to aggressively approach the coach to get things changed to their satisfaction. It’s not unusual to read about coaches being physically attacked or verbally assaulted by angry parents. Groups of parents take sides. Letters are written. Angry meetings are held. Demands are made of administrators. The team performance becomes a victim to the conflict. The coach’s focus changes from coaching to defending themselves against criticism.
Another frustration is working with athletes who are hard to motivate or are unresponsive to coaching. There can be a lack of commitment to working hard or staying eligible. Kids today have a myriad of activities they believe takes precedence over a practice, but they do not understand that missing a practice has a consequence personally and to the team. Some expect that just showing up is enough or don’t care whether they win or lose. An “I don’t care attitude” is tough to change.
Burnout has become an epidemic and we need to take action. Too much pressure and unrealistic expectations are the main culprits. Let’s get our priorities in order. Support the kids and coaches. Let them play.

Karen Coffin, retired coach, is a member of the P.C.H.S. Athletic Hall of Fame. She’s a writer and a facilitator for Ohio Coaching Education classes. Contact her at coachcoffin

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