When it comes to leadership in professional sports, emotions can play a critical role. The game preparation, outcome of the game, dealing with expectations from fans and media and personnel challenges all contribute to a highly volatile daily life of a coach. Most coaches would also tell you that despite these challenges, they’re probably their own worst critic. While media and fans may have high expectations, none tend to be higher than the coaches themselves, and they constantly strive for perfection. While it’s the coach’s job to convey an even keel and calm leadership of the team, this self-imposed perfection, combined with all the other pressures of the job, can manifest in emotional overload at times.

All of this contributes to high levels of stress in the coaching profession. Should this stress persist over time and not be addressed, it can quickly become chronic and even lead to the imperfections they were so desperately trying to avoid in the first place.

Some negative consequences of stress for coaches include:

A negative impact of their physical well-being 

5 impacts of stress on coaching

  • Fatigue/ chronic pain
  • Lack of concentration
  • Anxiety
  • Cardiovascular and other serious medical conditions
  • Anger/ Frustration / Irritability
  • Social detachment
  • Depression

Increasing the stress level of athletes on their team  

5 ways stress can impact coaches

  • In a study by Olusoga et al. (2010) on coaches and stress, the coaches in the study believed their responses to stress had direct and indirect effects on their athletes
  • Similarly, Thelwell et al. (2017) conducted interviews of 13 professional- and national-level athletes to determine how their coaches’ stress impacted them as athletes, and if stress compromised their coaches’ effectiveness on the job. The study found that a variety of verbal and behavioural cues displayed by coaches made it so athletes were able to detect when coaches were experiencing stress. At times, the stress of their coach would negatively impact their mindset or physical approach.

Erodes job satisfaction.

Coach unhappy with his job

Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI

  • Increases cynicism
  • Makes them feel ineffective or lacking accomplishment
  • Can cause them to be unproductive or perform poorly

Leads to poor lifestyle choices and behaviors.

Coach unhealthy decisions

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Increased use of alcohol, nicotine etc.

Increases Reputation Risk

Coach's reputation

  • The reputation a coach has built over his/her career can vanish in one poor decision. Stress can make decision making vulnerable, even to the most resilient of personalities.

Diminishing stress requires dedication and commitment, but the payoff cannot be overstated for our health, as enduring stress for too long can cause serious, long-term harm to our health.

For coaches, practicing strategies such as self-awareness, pushing for more balance in their life beyond just the job, and adopting healthier life choices (exercise, eating healthier) can allow them to navigate stress more effectively and avoid potentially disastrous outcomes.

Finally, coaches that are able to exhibit emotional intelligence, including self-expression, interpersonal relationships and decision-making, and self-perception can be greatly benefited and be helpful to manage the ups and downs of their profession.

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