Most stress management techniques and mental wellness initiatives place the emphasis on the individual to look after themselves, but no-one lives in a social or cultural vacuum. Emotions and behaviours often spread through emotional contagion; how one person in a particular environment feels and acts influences the feelings and actions of the people that they share the space with. As such, coaches can’t deal with their wellbeing by themselves; they require support from the relationships and cultures that surround them.
The strategies outlined below are by no means exhaustive, but they could be adopted as part of an integrated approach that prioritises coach mental health.
1. Recognise that coaches are performers
Cody Royle, a coach of Head Coaches in elite sport, makes the point that whilst athletes are typically signed by teams for their physical abilities (e.g., their strength and pace), coaches are usually hired for their mental capabilities (e.g., their decision-making and communication skills under pressure). Organisations must, therefore, recognise that the coach is not a commodity to be hired and fired. Rather, the coach is a performer in need of a facilitative environment. Consequently, just as coaches are encouraged to develop personal relationships with their athletes, key stakeholders within a sporting organisation should make getting to know their coaches’ needs and values a priority.
2. Improve work-life balance
A lack of time set aside for recovery is a strong predictor of burnout. Consequently, organisations should ensure that coaches have a more sustainable workload by scheduling in rests to daily/weekly routines and encouraging coaches to take days off away from the sport. Additionally, providing coaches with adequate time to rest is likely to help them recognise that they are more than what they do for a living. By investing time and energy in activities and relationships outside of a sports context, coaches at risk of burnout can reduce feelings of entrapment and enhance feelings of self-esteem in other areas of their life. A multi-dimensional identity is thought to serve as a physical and emotional buffer that mediates burnout risk.
3. Providing access to psychological skills training
To improve coaches’ coping and stress management skills under pressure, researchers recommend that appropriate psychological skills training is embedded in coach education and development programmes. Mental Skills Training (MST) interventions, such as those aimed at enhancing goal setting, imagery, self-talk and arousal regulation, are an established part of elite athletes’ preparation in high-performance sport. However, coaches have rarely been afforded the opportunity to engage in MST themselves despite evidence that they too can benefit. Mindfulness training has also been demonstrated to be an effective strategy at enhancing coach wellbeing and reducing coach stress.
4. Promote the benefits of self-reflection
Finally, it should be made clear that wellbeing is individual-specific, context-dependent and changes over time; it is not one-size-fits-all. As such, key stakeholders should provide coaches with opportunities to develop self-awareness skills so that they can review their own personal meaning of wellbeing. Coaches should also be encouraged to review their stress responses often and ask themselves whether the level of stress that they’re experiencing is normal or whether it could be a precursor to burnout. This could help to address the culture of mental toughness that is pervasive in many elite sports, and, by normalising talk of emotions, remove the stigma that often impedes help-seeking behaviours.
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