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Australian Coaches and Burnout: Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

By: Justin McNamara, Australian Institute of Sport and Lauren MacNamara, University of Canberra
PDF Link: COaching Australia

Coaching is potentially a very rewarding pursuit due to the joy of working with aspiring athletes, the challenge of building a successful program, the satisfaction derived from teaching sport skills, and the opportunity to facilitate an athlete’s psychosocial development. At the same time, coaching can be a very time-consuming, demanding and frustrating experience. Not surprisingly, some coaches thrive in the coaching profession and are passionate about their involvement. Others have a less positive view of their coaching experiences, which in some cases culminates in burnout and/or the individual leaving the coaching ranks.

Each year a substantial number of individuals stop coaching. Although coaches discontinue for a variety of reasons, recent years have been marked by increased public interest in burnout.
Burnout is a psychological syndrome characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation, and reduced personal accomplishment.

What causes coach burnout?
Several factors that have been linked to burnout in coaches are:
• pressure from administrators
• role conflict or ambiguity
• too much time spent travelling
• low control over job
• low social support
• democratic leadership style
• recurrent conflict with athletes
• pressure from parents of athletes.

What are the symptoms of burnout?
Recognising the signs of burnout is critical for coaches. These signs are:
• coaching seems to have lost its fun and dynamic edge
• preparation and planning become more arduous as the seasons wear on
• your athletes have become accustomed to receiving criticism rather than praise from you
• you turn to excuse-making, instead of searching for answers when faced with an issue.

Strategies to prevent burnout
It is critical to note that burnout is not a result of flawed character, behaviour or drive. It is the result of job stress and the nature of the coaching environment. There are several keys for preventing burnout:
• Take care of your own health by eating properly, getting sufficient sleep and getting involved in exercise.
• Spend less time on paperwork and administration, and more time involved in the enjoyable aspects of coaching.
• Break up your routine by introducing new training drills and activities.
• Find time to have fun during work hours.
• Seek out a mentor to gain support and advice during difficult times.
• If possible, restrict the amount of travel you do with teams and athletes.
• It is okay to say no, especially relating to committees and non-critical projects.
• Do not take ‘coaching’ home with you.

Burnout is a serious concern for coaches at all levels. Recognising the causes and symptoms, and knowing a few things about how to prevent burnout, can help coaches maintain a positive attitude and continue to love the work that they do.

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