Only a coach knows what it feels like to be halfway through the season, under .500, balancing family, work, and motivating a team of athletes. It’s a unique challenge, and it doesn’t leave much room for personal time outside of those other commitments.
To help you navigate these challenges, we asked 100+ coaches (ranging from youth sports all the way to the highest levels of D1 athletics) this question: What is the best way to avoid coaching burnout during the season? Here are the best responses we received.
What Is The Best Way to Avoid Coaching Burnout During The Season?
“When I was younger, I was an ‘ego coach’. I thought I had to be the first one there and the last to leave, and I had to spend every waking moment of free time at the facilities doing something. I had a former principal once tell me ‘when you’re there, be there’. When I’m home I’ll play/do whatever my kids want to because I know dad isn’t always around and mom has to pick up a lot of the slack with practices, games, events, etc.
I also do things as a family on the weekend like going out to eat, mini vacations, and watching movies together, because it keeps me fresh and allows me to have quality time with them. As crazy as it might sound, I don’t watch football on Saturdays after leaving the office. That time is for my family. Within my second sport (powerlifting), my wife is one of my assistants, so that is also time for our family to be together.”
–Joe Ryan, Assistant Football Coach & Head Boys/Girls Powerlifting Coach at Denham Springs HS (LA)
“You need to continually look for ways to improve and be efficient with the time you have.”
–Van Malone, Assistant Head Football Coach at Kansas State University
“It’s important to take mental breaks throughout the day. Personally, I’ve valued taking a walk every couple of hours or so. It’s a great way to get fresh air and clear your mind, even if it’s for ten minutes. Another great resource we have here is a group fellowship time set up for the athletic department. We take 30-45 minutes every other week to meet and talk about our struggles and accomplishments. It is an excellent way to ask for advice, get feedback, and talk through similar things we are all facing as college coaches.”
–Rachel Fulkerson, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach at IUPUI
“The best way to avoid coaching burnout during the season is to keep practices short and to the point. Create a fun environment in practice with music, different SSGs, and drills that still focus on your principles.”
–Austen Hurley, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Parker HS (SD)
“This is a struggle and it’s even harder when you’re losing. I left a successful 6A football team and came back to my 1A alma mater that has been a playoff contender for 4-5 years. This season, we went 0-10 after graduating 16 seniors (from a team of less than 35) and played a ton of 9th and 10th graders. Taking each game and giving myself small achievable goals helped me avoid coaching burnout this season.
In doing this, there remained a challenge to chase. We weren’t going to blow anyone out by 40, but we could build and develop the kids that we would need in the future. Taking this approach took the ‘desperateness’ out of the situation. We were working towards a goal of teaching and developing kids despite the tenuous season they endured. This allowed us to keep expectations realistic and focus on building skill rather than relying on desperate measures to win at any cost.”
–Chad Weeks, Football Offensive Coordinator at Vernon HS (FL)
“I think you have to find small moments to prioritize yourself throughout the season. Even a 5 minute meditation, stretch, or walk a few days per week can be centering. Sometimes that’s hard because you tend to feel like there’s always something more you can be doing.
For me, that usually happens earlier on a game day. The prep work is done and I’ve found that in most cases, cramming in information doesn’t do a service for me or the team. I have to trust that they have the tools they need to be successful and then I need to find the right headspace to be prepared and ready to make decisions in the moment.”
–Lu Robinson-Griggs, Head Women’s Basketball Coach at MIT
“We ask our players to plan and utilize schedules, so as coaches, we have to take our own advice. I schedule time for my family and myself, and then I have to have the discipline to stick to my plan. If I don’t schedule downtime, it probably won’t happen, and that’s how coaching burnout creeps in.”
–Richard Carrington, Men’s Lacrosse Defensive Coordinator at Amherst College
“I try to not practice as long. Once we get our priorities set, we usually cut our practices back and really work on our intensity in practice. It helps me and my team. I also spend time doing things I enjoy early in the year. Usually after Christmas, we will start watching more film and get ready for conference play and make sure we are fresh for postseason”
–Marty Smith, Basketball Coach at Kirby HS (AR)
“I believe the best way to avoid coaching burnout is to delegate responsibilities to your staff if you’re a head coach or coordinator. As a staff, you must have great communication with each other and your athletes. The most important thing to avoid coaching burnout is to care for yourself. As coaches we are usually selfless, but it helps to be selfish sometimes to not neglect your own personal health.”
–Ellery Bradford, Football Coach at Kenmore-Garfield HS (OH)
“Find assistants who fit your philosophy, so you are pulling in the same direction. Also, find coaches outside of your program to lean on for support. Having consistent, weekly time with a significant other can help keep life mentally in balance.”
–Perry Parendo, Basketball Coach at Rockford HS (MN)
“Eliminating the need for coaches to work extensively over the weekend is huge. The old school mentality was to grind through film and game-planning all day on Saturday and Sunday. Now with technology, we can take care of those tasks more efficiently from home, around our family. Work-life balance is important.”
–Derek Foster, Assistant Football Coach at Central Kitsap HS (WA)
“I believe we don’t burnout because of what we do, we burnout because we forget why we do it. We must stay in touch with that purpose that gets us out of bed every day, and we need to make sure we’re in a place that shares that why with us. Engaging with players, parents, staff, and making sure we continue to nurture/expand our network of coaches/mentors/influences while improving skill sets. In the end, those are the rewards we can count on.”
–Don Bartel, Former Head Football Coach at Eastlake HS (WA)
“Remember that coaching is only a job, it’s not your life. You can only do so much for a duration of time before it becomes too much. Set restrictions on your time, such as “okay today I’ll work 8-5, after that I will spend it doing something outside of work that I find enjoyment in” or any variation of that. Remembering not to get caught up in your job as well. There’s a lot more to this life than coaching. These are things that have really helped me put my life back into perspective after experiencing coaching burnout at a young stage in my career.”
–Dakota Rock, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach at Rhodes College
“We preach to our players the idea of being process-driven, meaning our focus is on the process and letting the results take care of themselves. It’s important to practice what we preach and remaining focused on the process can really help avoid coaching burnout during the season. Burnout comes from a place of frustration.
In athletics, results can often be a rollercoaster and lead to frustration and burnout. Bringing a tremendous amount of positive energy to practice becomes a lot easier when the process is consistent. Practice becomes fun and as a coach, you can get fulfillment from even the weakest links of your team making that small improvement day in and day out. If you rely on the results to feel effective in your role, you set yourself up for a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the season that often leads to that burnout feeling many coaches experience.”
–Joe Candarelli, Football Coach at John Jay Cross River HS (NY)
“Take some time for yourself to rest and do things that you enjoy in your down time. I like gathering with my family for dinner. Staying present in moments allows for less stress.”
-Alicia Scoggin, Basketball Coach for the Portland Trail Blazers Youth Sports Program
“There are several ways to avoid coaching burnout. Eat as healthy as possible, even if it’s an inconvenience. Putting the right fuel in your body & limiting processed foods enhances the ability of your gut bacteria. There is a strong relationship between your gut and brain. No matter what, spend time with your family every day. Put the cell phone away at 8 PM. Before cell phones & emails, coaches still won games, got kids scholarships, and made lifelong impacts on their players.
Journal every morning and evening. Write what you are grateful for each morning. Identify at least one thing that went well and at least one area of improvement in the evening. The most important one for me is staying focused on the process over any outcome. Be entirely in this moment and dominate this moment by seeking to attain outstanding quality in your current moment. Remember the past, cherish it, and learn from it. Dream of the future to create clear visions & action plans, but be fully invested at this moment.”
–Seth Wilson, Football and Basketball Coach at Jack Jouett MS (VA)
“I think you have to find a healthy balance between the demands of your athletes, administration, alumni, fans, family, and yourself. You have to find an ‘out’. Find that one thing you can do that removes you from that role and do it. Walking, mowing, reading — anything that you enjoy besides coaching. One thing most coaches who are wanting to get to the top forget is to take care of themselves. Not just physically, but mentally. A good nap never hurt anyone either!”
–Derek Bohnsack, Former Assistant Wrestling Coach at Missouri Valley College
“Have FUN! Be where your feet are and continue to grow your program at every level. This starts with having a great administration backing, good parent involvement, and involving your kids in your home life. We invite position groups and the whole team over for cookouts, pregame meals, and help them anyway we can. It’s a real joy having a real connection with the kids.”
–Blake Hollenbeck, Football and Track Coach at Lawton HS (OK)
“Allow coaches to utilize technology to break down film at home and on their own time. Have coaches voice-over and coach kids on film. Never let today ruin tomorrow. Ensure that the coaches are fresh and happy to come to work.”
–Nick Nelson, Football and Track Coach at Ankeny HS (IA)
“I don’t believe there is one cookie-cutter method for coaches to follow to avoid burnout. However, one thing that I’ve done this year is filling my free time with non-sports related activities. I know we don’t get much free time as coaches but, I tend to spend my free time thinking about every little detail about practice or games. If you’re spending all of your free time thinking about nothing but sports, it accelerates the burnout.”
–Austin Haines, Basketball and Track Coach at Brookside Intermediate School (TX)
“Sometimes it’s best just to put the film down and trust your team and the work that you put in at practice every day instead of worrying about every scenario like we coaches often do.”
–Tre Collins, Assistant Varsity and Head JV Basketball Coach at Meridian HS (MS)
See What 100+ Other Coaches Had to Say
We couldn’t fit every coach’s advice here, but read the best of the rest here so that you can draw from the other incredible coaches that gave their input on how to avoid coaching burnout.
If you’re looking to become a better coach and leader, you can also learn a ton from these 6 youth sports coaching podcasts.
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