Why coach wellbeing matters

Research

By Connor Sharp

Why coach wellbeing matters

Like in all walks of life, mental health has been neglected in sport for too long.

But as conversations around mental health and wellbeing in sport become more prevalent, it's important to expand the discussion to focus not just on athletes but coaches too.

Based on some of the academic research in this emerging area, here are three realities coaches should know about mental health and wellbeing:

1) Coach wellbeing impacts players

The wellbeing of a coach isn't just important on an individual level. The authors of a 2020 paper in the BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine warned against stress in a coach's life because:

"chronically elevated stress levels can impact negatively on a coach's well-being, which may in turn reduce the individual's ability to best support athletes they coach"

Researchers of a paper in the Journal of Sport Sciences noted that when coaches faced high levels of stress, they negatively impacted the mental health of athletes. This is because the transferable nature of stress meant that coaches could pass on their stress and anxiety to their players through their interactions with them.

2) Many coaches lack confidence in dealing with mental health

Research in the European Physical Education Review tested coaches mental health literacy - a construct to measure levels of knowledge of mental health and attitudes towards poor mental health and mental health support services. While mental health literacy is context specific the general finding was that coaches weren't scoring particularly high (123.10 on a scale of 35 to 160). For the researchers, such a score suggests:

"Coach certification programmes could adopt strategies to help coaches improve their knowledge of mental health services and how such services may be accessed"

The researchers concluded that a coach with a good understanding of how to access mental health support may improve their own wellbeing and is more equipped and likely to share that knowledge with their players.

3) Players perceive a coach under stress to be less effective

Research in the Journal of Sport Sciences found that from a players perspective, they perceived a coach under stress to be less effective in their role as a coach:

"It was also the broad view of the athletes that coaches were less effective when stressed, and this was reflected in performance expectations, perceptions of competence, and lack of awareness"

The data suggested that players are able to detect when a coach is stressed by picking on a variety of verbal and behavioural cues. Avoiding stress can be challenging for a coach as research in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology has shown that coaches are often dealing with many different stressors from a variety of sources.

3 takeaways:

1) Ask players about their wellbeing

As a coach you have a responsibility to look after not just your own wellbeing but also the wellbeing of the players you coach. As players return to your coaching, pull together a short three-question survey to check in on your players:

  • What are you most excited about in terms of returning to the team?
  • What are you most nervous about in terms of returning to the team?
  • What do you value most in a coach as you return?

2) Build a network of peer support

Find a small group of fellow coaches to and cultivate sharing and openness by reaching out and discussing your experiences. The next time you're talking tactics, throw in a question about how your peers are feeling about their coaching. Start a conversation about what stresses them out and how they work their way through the stressors of coaching.

Doing this can help you enhance your own understanding and knowledge whilst also building a deeper connection with others.

3) Identify your stressors

As shown across research, the stressors facing each coach can be varied and different for each individual. Reflect on the aspects that are causing you stress.

What experiences regularly stress you out?

Consider common stressors for coaches such as conflicts, pressure with expectations, coaching responsibilities, player concerns, competition prep or organisational management.

(We have just sent an email to our subscriber list with a list of stressors for difference maker coaches to reflect on - you can sign up to this email list using the sign up below)

References

BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine - Elite coaches have a similar prevalence of depressive symptoms to the general population and lower rates than elite athletes

European Physical Education Review - Examining mental health literacy, help seeking behaviours, distress, and wellbeing in UK coaches

Journal of Applied Sport Psychology - Stress in Elite Sports Coaching: Identifying Stressors

Journal of Sport Sciences - Exploring athletes' perceptions of coach stress in elite sport environments

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