May is home to many National observances, two of which are of special interest to TOPPS: mental health awareness and physical fitness and sports. In April, our focus was mental health observance in youth sport; we discussed some of the negatives found in children’s athletics, despite youth leagues’ best intentions, as well as the detriments unchecked coaching might elicit. Though typically mentors and inspirational experts, coaches can also be self-interested and, consequently, negatively influence their athletes (even for years after said athlete’s sport involvement concludes). We will continue to discuss and provide educational resources for athletes to improve their emotional wellness and overall performances, but we must not forget to educate and provide resources to our coaches, mentors and inspirational experts.
In sport, we focus a lot on the athlete, the athlete performance, and are quick to praise or shame a coaching staff based on wins or losses. Our focus on providing the best tools to athletes to reach success overlooks the impact it takes on those who are providing these skills. It is extremely important we begin to examine the mental psyche of our coaches. Whether it be at the youth, amateur, or professional level, the vast majority of coaches have players’ best interests at heart and work tirelessly day in and out to reap reward for these players. Yet, somehow, this hard work and, consequently, their mental health, is frequently overlooked.
It is easy to dehumanize coaches. During ‘The Big Game’ or ‘The Important Race,’ they are on the sidelines and, though instrumental, not at the forefront of an athlete’s great glory. Now, we don't want to take away from the athlete's success we know the coach is not the one physically completing these technical, tactical skills, and the athlete is owed great acknowledgement for these but what about the coaches? The coaches who stayed up hours to plan and prepare training cycles, recruitments, game day preparations, watched hours of film, deliberated and debated line ups or strategies. They are there for every sweaty, hard-fought competition, every battle, any set-backs, life's drama, and medical dilemmas an athlete or team may experience. Again, still focusing on the athlete most often, but of course these struggles affect coaches. They are arguably just as invested, emotionally and physically, as their charges. Alongside athlete's impacting the emotional well-being of coaches, what about their own thoughts, emotions, and actions. Their own pressure to succeed and create a culture of champions. Coaches carry the weight of assisting athletes to reach their greatest potential, yet their work and livelihood is based on these performances, specifically wins. Therefore, it stands, their mental health and emotional wellness should be a priority.
Unfortunately, mental health resources specifically for coaches appear few and far between. Considering coaches are those trusted with dreams, consulted for advice, and even solicited for athletes’ own mental health issues, this is concerning. If our coaches are not taking care of themselves, seeking advice and support for their emotional needs, how can they also take care of our athletes? Focusing on coaches ability to manage their mindset is key to their success and their athletes. It is time we start talking about mental health within all realms.
TOPPS has created the following mental health TOPPS Tip list for coaches with some recommendations pulled from Greene and Robinson. It is certainly not exclusive; and if interested in learning more about coaching education or resources please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Develop and understand your coaching philosophy
Manage emotions effectively, set small specific goals to assist in improving focus
When feeling stressed - SLOW DOWN (this includes movements, speech, breathing, etc.). Allow yourself time to process, whether this be during practice, a game, or simply at home.
Clear distractions and peripherals by focusing only on small things necessary for a positive outcome (i.e. If a big game is approaching, don’t stress about large plays/outside factors.Rather, concentrate on: an effective warm-up, ensuring play-ready equipment, keeping players hydrated).
If errors or setbacks do occur, clear your mind and focus immediately on the task at hand: the next play, relay, player sub.
Repeat daily affirmations: “I am a devoted, professional, appreciated coach and I am making a difference.”
Imagery/visualization: Picture yourself when your players/athletes are in action.Where are you?Are you on the sidelines?How are you responding to potential events/plays/setbacks?
Altogether, no one will deny we rely on coaches for so much! They are trusted to improve our athletic skills and endurance, consulted for mental health issues, and credited with team-building and instilling life skills. These individuals work relentlessly to help others achieve their dreams and, unfortunately, don’t always receive adequate emotional support. It’s time coaches, too, were provided those mental health resources and what better occasion to begin building the well-deserved assistance than now.
Greene, Hillary. Calling All Coaches: Do You Have a Mental Skills Map? Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Retrieved on May 10, 2017, from http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/resources/resources-for-coaches/calling-all-coaches-do-you-have-a-mental-skills-map/.
Robinson, Derek. (26 September, 2008). Hey Coach: Focus and Refocus Strategies (Mental Preparation). Curling Canada. Retrieved on May 10, 2017, from http://www.curling.ca/blog/2008/09/26/focus-and-refocus-strategies-mental-preparation/.