Whether you are a sports coach or anyone of the numerous support practitioners now in elite sport, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have a sustainable and fulfilling career.
If you are nodding with agreement regarding that opening statement then you may well end up on the heap like so many other coaches, or at least unfulfilled and unhappy in the field. The key change that needs to be made to your approach/mindset could be…
You don’t ‘have or not have’ a sustainable career.
You ‘build’ one.
This article is all about the foundations which will stand the test of time and see you weather the inevitable storms our industry has to throw at us. The points are laid out as problems, but any article is worthless if it doesn’t provide you with some actionable solutions.
Before we get going, we need to define some of the problems we experience regularly and apply some context for the discussion…
What are the issues?
- Getting shit canned.
Call it sacked, fired, let go, not renewed, asked to reapply for your own job (and not getting it), being strung along and told yay or nay at the last minute, don’t fit in with their plans. It has sadly become the highly combustible nature of our industry and personally, I do not know a coach with over 10 years in the game who has not been shit canned.
Physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion and fatigue is so rife in our industry it is shocking. The glorification of monster hours, no breaks and obsessive approach are not only unsustainable but a fast track to illness and quitting the industry before your time.
- Low pay and a huge supply and demand imbalance
Sports coaches and support practitioner graduates are being churned out of undergraduate and postgraduate programs at an alarming rate. Straight fact, there aren’t enough jobs to go around. This drives up the entry requirements and drives down the salary as people are becoming increasingly willing to do more for less, just to get onto the ladder.
- Expectations are unreasonable
Perhaps due to your replaceability, the job you are expected to do once you are in, is usually considerably greater than what you signed up for. It must be said though, us coaches have a serious issue with creating work for ourselves to ‘give our athletes the best we can’. Issue here is we end up diluting everything.
- Lack of knowledge and understanding of how to map out a professional pathway
We don’t get taught how to look 3/5/10 years down the line. How to take the blinkers off, or how we can make decisions about our career, now, that will set us up for success in the future. Until this decision making framework was created.
These are just some of the issues in the pro-sport world. There are plenty more, but these set the tone for what many of us do, have or will experience at some point. But this article is about 3 specific topic areas which trip up so many people in our field.
The outcomes of these 3 big are often disillusionment, lack of progression/feeling stuck or worse still jumping out of the industry all together. So, let’s dive in and discuss the issue and provide some solutions…
1. You define yourself by your job and the badge
This is going to be hard for your ego and pride to hear, and maybe they won’t like it.
But, you are dispensable and replaceable. There more than likely is someone better than you at this job. You will be remembered, for a while. Someone is probably going to come in and implement their own systems and structures and ditch yours. If the club or organisation can take someone 10% worse than you, but 10% cheaper, they probably will.
Some harsh realities there, but again, I don’t know a single coach with over 10 years in the industry who has not realised these things. So in an industry so brutal, if you attach your value and worth as a person to your job, logo, badge, then you are in for a really rough fall if it doesn’t work out.
How to identify if you fit into this category…
You will usually introduce yourself to a stranger, and your job will be one of the first things you tell them.
‘I am Dave and I am a Strength and Conditioning coach for Boston Red Sox’.
We’ve all been there. But maybe it’s time we all grew out of it. You are not your job. If you have young kids, chances are they don’t even know what your job is. Time to get some perspective and realise you are not what you do for a living.
What can you do if you read this and realise that you do define yourself by your job, title or badge?
- Ask as many people as possible if they think you do this.
- Read this great book from Ryan Holiday called ‘Ego is the Enemy’ as many times as you need to
- Write a list of everything in your life that is important to you outside of work
- Challenge yourself to not speak about work with people you meet for the first 5 minutes of the conversation. This should be easy to do
- Discuss this with your mentor. If you don’t have a mentor. Get one asap.
- Find that one person who is going to call you out for this. Get some accountability.
2. You prioritise your athlete’s wellbeing over your own
As coaches we are inherently givers. This means we give our time, energy and emotions to others. Often meaning that we do not leave enough for our nearest and dearest and subsequently ourselves. We then end up in this negative spiral of not being enough for any of the people we are trying to help and support.
The outcome is that no one gets the best of us, and our own performance as coaches suffers. Which is ironic really considering that we are trying to improve our athlete’s wellbeing, but by avoiding our own, we are probably not even achieving that goal.
You cannot continually put others first without having a negative impact on your relationships with self and others.
How can you put yourself first a bit more?
- Stop saying yes to everything
- Realise the time cost of everything you sign up to and then budget that time in line with the biggest bang for the buck
- Automate as much as you possibly can. Box off your systems
- Assess what activities, training, and interventions will true improve performance then prioritise a couple only
- Find an accountability partner who will hold your feet to the fire
- Get yourself a mentor
- Talk to and listen to people with 10+ years experience and learn their lessons
3. You have not mapped out your career path.
When you map out your career you are creating a blueprint, a set of checkpoints which almost act as a guide whether you know your destination or not. Think lighthouse in poor visibility here. It will light the way forward for you and steer you away from danger.
If you know your destination then you need to know 2 things
- Where you are right now in terms of core competencies, knowledge gaps and blind spots
- How you are going to get to your destination, the route, the checkpoints, stops and potential get off points
If you don’t know your end destination, then you need to set out a vision with some broad stroke ideas of goals as to how you want to go about your journey for example…
- Manage a team
- Earn your age in pay
- Not work evenings or weekends
- Buy a home
- Mentor others
- Pay off mortgage by 50
- Not live month to month
- Prioritise travel
- Have a family
The most important aspect of mapping out your career is to truly understand where you are through some comprehensive self-assessment and then make some clearly defined and structured plans based on the findings. These must contain goals, checkpoints and actions based on what you learn about yourself. This is one particular area which is going to be covered extensively in upcoming products from career blueprint.
Coaching can be a fantastic, rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable career pathway, but you’ll need to take control and build some stability for yourself with a solid exit strategy, some self-awareness and a well thought out plan.
We all talk and discuss the issues in our industry, but we don’t spend enough time discussing the solutions. The ‘how’ of building sustainability, flexibility and security for yourself. Its not easy but these conversations are taking place HERE.
What’s coming next?
The Reflective Practitioners Journal is now live on Amazon and available to purchase worldwide. In the next few months, a fantastic and novel career mapping tool created in collaboration with Dan Howells of Collaborate Sports will be available. It is going to be a complete game changer so stay tuned for that!
For those of you not signed up to the Performance Practitioner Well-being Facebook community you can do so HERE. A place where over 600 practitioners from 5 different disciplines share ideas, discuss, and engage with wellness related content without judgement or expectation.