Managing burnout: Lessons from elite sport coaches.


Burnout tends to happen as a result of long-term stress in a situation or job that, for whatever reason, you’re highly committed to. So the more you care about your work, the more likely you are to experience burnout.

Burnout has three major characteristics: emotional and physical exhaustion, a cynical attitude towards people and relationships at work, and a feeling that you are no longer accomplishing anything worthwhile. Sound familiar?

Those behind the scenes in the sporting world – the coaches – often have to deal with their own stress, while managing the pressures facing the athletes they work with. This can make their jobs doubly stressful as they are effectively managing and thinking about two jobs at a time.

The experiences of elite sports coaches who burned out to the point of wanting to quit their jobs provide us with some useful tips for avoiding or managing burnout.

1. Know thyself

To stop burnout from happening in the first place, it’s really important to understand how you normally respond to stress. Write down the things that cause unwanted stress in your life, along with how you normally react to those things, and what you do to cope. If you start to notice a change in the way you’re reacting to or dealing with stress – at work or at home – this might be an early warning sign of burnout.

2. Don’t be a hero

Developing a “superman complex” – also known as trying to do it all – can be a major contributing factor to burnout. This can often see people trying to take on multiple roles, under great pressure, and then not asking for help.

Image result for superman
You don’t have to take the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Daring to let someone in and talk about how you feel can often be the first step to recovery. Asking for help and showing a little vulnerability can be difficult, but it is actually a sign of immense strength, rather than weakness.

3. Watch your expectations

Think carefully about what you expect from yourself in all areas of your life, and make sure those expectations are realistic. The coaches this study described having unrealistic expectations of what they should be able to handle – clearly linked to the need to be superman all the time.

Previous research also shows that a discrepancy between your “actual self” and your “ideal self” can have a negative impact on self-esteem.

4. Take a little control

There are things in life, in work and at home, that we can control. There are also things we can’t control. If you were to write lists for both, I’d bet that most of the stress and worry in your life comes from the list of things you can’t control. So why not take a little of that energy and put it into taking back a little control?

Pick something small (drink more water, eat more fruit, walk more) and make a concerted effort to take control of that aspect of your life. Even after reaching the point of quitting, coaches have explained that taking a little control over how they left the job was a huge step in their recovery from burnout.

5. Take breaks and be present

Booking a two week holiday in the Bahamas every time we feel stressed would certainly be nice, but it’s not realistic. But we can take “breaks” simply by taking the decision to be fully immersed in our lives away from work. Admittedly, it’s easier said than done, but take time at home to be fully present.

Eat dinner with your family and make a conscious decision to be fully engaged in that activity – even if you have to check your emails afterwards. According to coaches in our research, building and maintaining a supportive network, and connecting with family and friends is vital to avoid burnout – so those small breaks can make a huge difference.

What are your experiences of burnout? What are your strategies for managing stress in your role? Leave a comment below

This article was originally written for The Conversation. Read the full article here.

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