• Dr Wilbur Kraak // PhD Sport Science

Burnout Amongst Amateur Sport Coaches


I was motivated to do this piece after reading an article by Eugene (Loffie) Eloff on THE LONELY LIFE OF A RUGBY COACH published on Rugby365.

What is burn-out?

Burnout is a reaction to chronic stress that involves negative interactions between environmental and personal characteristics. It has been characterised as a chronic condition that develops when one is working too hard for too long in a high-pressure situation. It is conceptualised as uncontrollable, negatively perceived events occurring over a period of time that lead to three negative psychological responses: depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and a lack of personal accomplishment.

Coaching under stressful conditions can lead to burnout. 35% of swimming coaches in the USA stop coaching every year[1]. In world class sport, coaching is a stressful job, with many studies looking into the increasing amount of stress associated with elite sports coaching. Most coaches that are vulnerable to burnout and stress leave the profession before reaching the elite level[2].

I found some snippets from an online article written by Jeremy Fowler for the Orlando Sentinel. These bring home the reality of coaching and the consequences it can have.

Snippet 1

Houston Nutt is 52 years old, but it took him almost 50 years just to schedule a routine physical on his own. The diagnosis was nothing severe, but doctors urged Nutt to get away from coaching for a day, an hour, a month. Handle the stress. "My wife was on me hard," said Nutt, the head football coach at Ole Miss. "It makes you think. It's hard to slow coaching when it's all you know."

As suggested in the Rugby365 article, a coach must fulfil multiple roles, especially at an amateur level. These roles can include; leader, manager, friend, fundraiser, counsellor, “fall guy”, and more.

What causes burnout amongst amateur coaches?

Work- related causes (coaching)

- Feeling like you have little or no control over your work

- Lack of recognition or rewards for good work

- Unclear or overly demanding job expectations

- Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenged

- Working in an unorganised or high-pressure environment

Snippet 2

Almost every tireless-working coach can relate to Florida's Urban Meyer, who is taking a leave of absence in February to find a balance among family, health and coaching. Meyer has suffered from chest pains.

But will coaches ever change? Or will each well-publicized life scare serve as a footnote more than a true cautionary tale?

Meyer, 45, is the latest in the news after a Dec. 6 emergency room visit because of chest pains and falling unresponsive on the floor of his home.

Lifestyle causes

- Working too much without enough time for relaxing and socialising

- Taking on too many responsibilities without enough help from other

- Not getting enough sleep

- Lack of close, supportive relationships

Snippet 3

Villanova coach Andy Talley, 66, had a heart attack about eight years ago, and as he found himself in an emergency room with his life in jeopardy, he wasn't thinking about recruiting or playbooks.

"What I was thinking about was my kids, my wife, my family, and whether I'd ever see them again,"

Personality traits

- Perfectionist tendencies, nothing ever is good enough

- Pessimistic view of yourself and the world

- The need to be in control, reluctant to delegate to others

- High achieving, the type A personality

Recognising the signs and symptoms of burnout is critical for coaches. Some things to look out for include:

- Coaching seems to have lost its fun and dynamic edge.

- Preparation and planning become more problematic as the seasons goes on.

- Your athletes have become accustomed to receiving criticism rather than praise from you.

- You turn to excuse-making, instead of searching for answers when faced with an issue.

Questions coaches should ask them self when finding themselves in tough situations?


  1. Is coaching still fun?

  2. Is the pressure to succeed becoming too much, and the expectations unrealistic?

  3. Are you generally tired, angry, frustrated, or short with people?

  4. Have you developed an alcohol or drug habit in order to cope with the pressure of coaching?

  5. Do you struggle with multi-tasking and delegating duties to other supporting staff?

  6. Are other important aspects of your life suffering because of the amount of time you put into coaching?

  7. Do you have outlets to help blow off steam?

  8. Do you have a general feeling that you are simply going too hard?

There are many strategies and tricks one can use if burnout is suspected. Simple things such as taking time off, actively trying to have a positive mindset, getting quality sleep, or exercising regularly, can go a long way in the fight to avoid burnout. It might even be wise to research and practice some stress management strategies.

Even if you aren’t a coach yourself, chances are that you work with a coach, and might be able to help just by being aware of the signs and symptoms of burnout.

  1. Raedeke, T.D. (2000). Why coaches Experience burnout: A commitment respective. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 22: 85 – 105.

  2. Hjälm, S; Kenttä, G; Hassménan, P; Gustafsson, H. (2007). Burnout Among Elite Soccer Coaches. Journal of Sport Behavior, 30:4, 415-427

#Burnout #Coaching

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