[Shh … don’t tell people about this story, I only share it with a few special folks]
I started my coaching career in 1978, and left five years later, a burned out shell of a coach. I had been coaching a rowing team at a small, private college, and we were very successful my first four years. We won many top races, the athletes were having fun, and I really enjoyed what I was doing. But slowly it became more difficult to win, and I found I had to work harder and harder just to remain competitive.
During what turned out to be my final year, things really fell apart. It took all the energy I could muster just to keep myself and the team together. Some days I struggled to even get out of bed.
When things started to go bad I began blaming the kids–and especially their work ethic–for our lack of success. “They just won’t do what needs to be done,” I complained. “They need to work harder, spend more time getting stronger, and get in better shape.”
I felt that the athletes were purposely making it hard for me to coach, and I began to despise them for it. So I did what many coaches do when they find themselves in similar situations–I worked harder. I spent more time watching videos, planned overly intense workouts, and pushed the athletes constantly.
The end of that final year was an awful experience for me, as it surely was for the athletes. Not only was I not enjoying what I had previously loved to do, but I was constantly getting sick. I couldn’t sleep. I had a twitch in one eye that I couldn’t shake. I began to disassociate myself from the athletes I was coaching, my friends, and my family. Worst of all, I had absolutely no idea why something that had been so wonderful just months before was now suddenly so awful.
When the season was over, I did the only thing that I could think of–I threw in the towel. I believed that the athletes had won, and I had lost. I felt inside that I was a good coach, but I resisted the temptation to stay and try to make things better because I felt that one more year of coaching would kill me.
My second tour as a coach has been quite different. I accepted an invitation to a regatta only because it would have been impolite to refuse, and once I saw the rowing shells I knew I had to return to coaching. I’ve been back in the profession for 27 years, and the factor that made a difference was coaching education and development.
I know this time around what I did not know the first time–that there are specific things a coach must do to remain successful and happy in the profession. This includes having a strong support network, being professional in and out of the office, caring about your image, and learning as much as you can as often as you can.
I learned these things through the coaching education programs that I tapped into, along with caring and supporting athletic directors. Coaches can’t make it alone, and the advice I’ve received from others has made all the difference in my ability to thrive in the profession.