Change the grind!
Yes, I said it. We need to change the way we think about our jobs and profession. No longer should we idolize the grind of 60 hour plus work weeks. The Strength and Conditioning profession is notorious for long hours. Coaches can go weeks or months without a full day off of work. They are truly dedicated people with a workhorse mentality. Listen, we love our job and spend a significant amount of our free time thinking about it. I for one could not be more grateful to be where I am and getting to do what I do everyday, but sometimes enough is enough. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. We are talking about burnout.
What is burnout?
I would define burnout as a place where you no longer have the vigor and joy for a job/activity that you once had. It goes from being a “get to” and turns into a “have to”, a burden, a sense of dread. Do we all experience it? I would venture to say Yes! At some point all coaches experience burnout. Burnout affects you both mentally and physically.
How it starts
You love your job and what you do. You spend extra hours thinking and preparing for everything imaginable. You are the first one there and last one to leave. For all of your athletes you know their little nuances, help them with their problems and go above and beyond. It is great at first until it isn't. All of a sudden you start to miss out on other things in your life. The friends you have are always asking you to grab lunch but you say no because you do not have the time. You are home late so your family is already asleep and you leave early in the morning before they are up. You then realize you haven't talked to them outside of text in a week. Something is off and we need to steer the ship back on course before it crashes.
Why it happens
What drives our hustle for the profession is the same passion of what leads us into the profession. As a whole strength and conditioning coaches have a deep intrinsic drive to make themselves and others better. We love to see what we are capable of and what we can help to build others to be capable of. We love seeing the joy in an athletes eyes when they have been dedicated to the process and finally hit a mark of success. It could be hitting their first homerun to a 500lb deadlift pr to getting their first pullup, the feeling is always the same. That same relentless pursuit to achieve excellence, to push ourselves higher and farther can be a double edged sword.
It starts with the hours. We always think we can do more.
Sample schedule of what I used to do:
Monday through Friday: 8-8
Saturday: 8- 2
My schedule is not nearly as bad as many. I have many friends who laugh at this because they have this many hours in by Wednesday. They start with their first teams around 5ish in the morning and push through the day as their last teams filter out around 8pm.
I like to think of life having three pillars.
Work, Family and Self are all built on relationships.
Relationships with those you work with, relationships with your significant other/family and debatably the most important is the relationship you have with yourself. All are different but all are important in their own way. Every once in awhile it is okay for them to be out of balance but we must always bring it back to center. What I mean by that is yes, you will still work 60 hours plus a week for a couple months during football season but need to follow that up with extra off time and shorter work weeks during the off season. Similar to training and periodization which we try to write the perfect balanced program, our lives and avoiding burn out will be a constant balancing act. There is no one universal answer but burnout is simple, when you are too focused on one thing for too long you lose your passion for it and no longer find the joy you once had. When that happens it is like living in the twilight zone and that is not good for anyone.
Digging out of the hole.
To take a step back and look at the problem in front of us we must ask ourselves a few questions:
Are we being effective and efficient?
Are we practicing what we preach?
Are we being the best version of ourselves?
Are we 100 percent present and giving the energy our athletes and clients need and deserve?
Are we balancing our lives so we do not burn out after a few years?
These are the tough questions we need to sit down and face. We talk about recovery with our athletes and we need to make sure we are not being hypocrites about it ourselves. We must avoid burnout because it is a momentous task to get out of once you are in it. In order to be the best coaches and versions of ourselves we should be in a happy and healthy place. Only then we are able to do an excellent job at our chosen profession.
Roadmap to change
-Develop an escape plan. Think how can I be the most effective. Is everything I am doing needed and necessary?
-Learn from others and the past. We can’t afford to continue to make the same mistakes.
-Renew the motivation and maintain the passion daily.
-Learn to say No
-Develop goals for yourself, your work and your family lives.
-Scale and automate everything you can.
Take a step back and assess the goals you have for yourself and your work. If you find passion for the processes, the day in and day out activities, you are on the right track. The process will bring you closer to your goals which in turn saves you on relying solely on motivation to get there.
No matter who you are, at some point will need a recharge. I break it down into cycles just like programming. What am I doing daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly to renew my passion for strength and conditioning as well as family and life.
Daily - Meditation = 5 minutes of quiet or Read
Weekly - my own workouts. 2 or 3 mandatory workouts. I do brazilian jiu jitsu and it is away from where I work. Huge benefit because I can not get caught up in doing more. You have to be in the moment during this activity. It is crazy how time slips away if you let it.
Monthly- A date with my wife. Time to be present with the person who brings out the best me.
Yearly- Family vacation. Even though it has its own type of chaos it is different and I always look back on it with joy and excitement to go again the next year.
During the busy season I do not change what I do daily, weekly or monthly. I do them to maintain my sanity and effectiveness as a coach. Each activity is very simple, which makes them sustainable. Also they are non-negotiable.
I work in the private sector so I have the ability to manipulate and manage what I do more than others. If you work for a college that can be a little more tricky with sports coaches and administration but if you work for good people good things tend to happen. This is not an overnight process.
My current schedule of what I do now for balance. It is not perfect yet but it is a good start.
10-12 Sunday Programming
Tools to fix it
What I did to bring things back to manageable.
- Manage your time.
- Block it off. I am constantly working on holding to a schedule and being careful to not make exceptions. Stand firm, if you do not it is a slippery slope. Realize your time is valuable and saying no is okay.
- Trust in others/Hire good people.
- I have become more accustomed to delegation. Giving others the chance to do jobs and trusting in them. At first this is tough but it will also open your eyes. Over the last couple of years we have changed a lot of our policies and procedures because I have given someone else a task. They did it their own way and it happened to be a better way than what we were doing. This happens a lot when you hire good people and they are given autonomy.
- Once and done activities vs ongoing activities.
- There are activities you get to do once and they are done for good. Example moving the weight room around. Ongoing activities are daily or weekly such as cleaning the gym. We should identify what we only have to do once and get those done right the first time which saves time later and the tasks that are ongoing. With ongoing we are then able to then schedule it out and manage our time.
- Take a break.
- No work. Take time to yourself. Meditate and breath. Almost all things in life can be solved by taking a step back, breathing and then proceeding.
A few realizations
- There will always be more work. Shut it down.
- Energy balance.You give so much energy and time to your athletes that you must recharge yourself.
- Pick up a different hobby.
- Get good Sleep! Nothing is better than a nap or a solid night's rest.
I hope this resonates with many people not only in the strength and conditioning world but it all professions. Much of what I am trying to convey can be applied universally. Think, am I doing something that is sustainable? If not what am I doing to change that? Keep healthy during the times of chaos by preparing and fixing your lifestyle for when you are not in the storm. As we start the new year review the steps to avoid burnout and crush the new year with a new mentality.
Get outside, have coffee with friends, and enjoy a great conversation.