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Should sports coaches have more access to personal performance coaching?

Posted 834 Days Ago in: Coaching Articles

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About a year ago I pitched my services of mental training and personal performance in sports to a local, well-performing tennis club, aiming at their adult players. I received an immediate positive response from their programmes manager and went to our meeting excitedly, thinking that I would be able to sign on some new clients.

Should sports coaches have more access to personal performance coaching? 

About a year ago I pitched my services of mental training and personal performance in sports to a local, well-performing tennis club, aiming at their adult players. I received an immediate positive response from their programmes manager and went to our meeting excitedly, thinking that I would be able to sign on some new clients. And sign on I did, however, not quite who I expected.

I was met by the business and programmes managers, both young, dynamic and very engaging. They both had read about personal coaching and believed there was a great need for it in sports. They confirmed my impression that while elite sports have the funds for mental training coaches and sports psychologists, these services were notably absent in amateur sports.

However, they were less concerned about their players at this point; instead, would I agree to present to their tennis coaches? On coach burn-out and life balance?

Relatively new to performance coaching in sports, I had never thought about the coaches, so focused had I been on the athletes. I knew that athletes burn out – in ever higher numbers and at an ever younger age, but coaches?

It does make sense, though, when you think about it. Unsociable hours, high expectations, repetitiveness, emotional demands, and above all the great potential for conflict between the coaches, the players, the parents of younger players, (and sometimes the club) – all this can make sports coaching a highly stressful profession. Apparently, the burn-out rate for sports coaches lies at the same level as that for the caring professions*, which is about 30%**.To me that is a heartbreaking figure, as I imagine most coaches are in it for the love of their sport. They are highly specialised people, and I wonder what other jobs they would find if they don’t make it in their chosen career.

Of course the club’s ultimate concern is their reputation and bottom line, so looking after their coaches’ mental health isn’t entirely self-less. Yet I couldn’t help admire the foresight and length these managers were prepared to go for their coaches, and I really wanted to work with them. I practically felt heroic, vainly imagining myself lifting a whole profession out of inevitable burn-out!

Well, I took on the job and have been back there for more work since, though it has to be said that coaching tennis coaches is a bit of a challenge and quite humbling. Somewhat predictably, none of them felt that there was anything particularly wrong, and not everyone is in touch with their innermost needs to the point that they are able to vocalise, let alone want to share their feelings. I didn’t have their trust, and why would I? They had not invited me in and were on the defensive. Yes, tennis coaching was tiring and tough, but they called that a normal day in the office, and they were tough enough to take it, thank you very much.

I’m sure some of us personal performance coaches have found themselves in this dark hole with their ideals crushed, wanting to run and take back whatever job they’ve had before, with a pay cut if necessary. I’ve been there, in any case.

Thankfully, a shred of my idealism survived. The gloomy burn-out statistics were on my side, and so were the great coaches that I read about who were admired and loved, and who achieved great things with their charges. They talked about boundaries, investing time and energy to really get to know their clients, and having special philosophies, which placed the teaching of life skills above the winning of matches. There was mention of constantly evaluating what training regimes were working, which weren’t, and why. Reading their statements was hugely inspiring, and their enthusiasm and idealism catching.

While thinking about what to do with all this positive energy bubbling up in me, cynicism did rear its ugly head – could those people be real? Is it really possible to be this good all the time? In the end I decided to believe that even the best coaches have to continue to aspire to be great – without aspiration that greatness would just seep away.

And that was a real light bulb moment for me and my coaching the coaches – as long as I aspire to what I believe is right, even great, I can’t be on the wrong path.

I believe that sports coaches should have more access to personal performance coaching. These people are with their clients through success, loss and probably lots of pain. There is great camaraderie and shared emotions. Any number of life skills are shared too, even if they haven’t been captured in a philosophy statement. Given all of this, I believe that all coaches are already pretty great. However, to stay great, and because of the influence they have in the lives of others, sports coaches not only deserve all the support they can get, but also have a duty to work on their personal development.

I went back to “my” tennis club for a workshop and told them this story, about what I had learned through working with them. Finally, the wall of silence came down, slowly, brick by brick. Being authentic, humble and levelling with my clients finally got me to a place where I could be idealistic again. It sounds like a paradox, but it’s simply about gaining trust.

Silke Endacott Coaching delivers dynamic personal performance coaching and mental skills training to athletes and sports coaches who want to excel at their game. Contact Silke via www.facebook.com/SilkeEndacottCoaching.

Sources:

*Stress and Burnout among collegiate tennis coaches, Kelly, Eklund, Ritter-Taylor, 1999

**Employee Burnout common in nearly a third of UK companies, Robert Half, UK, 2013

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