Whereas the curriculum was the meat and potatoes of my education at Adler University, the broth was this concept of “self-care”; for without it all of my hard work, knowledge, and intention would leave my clients with a very partial pile of steamed veggies when they expected a full dish. If I could not muster the energy to sit with my client from an unbiased position, I would leave my clients who were expecting a full meal dissatisfied and ultimately worse off than when they arrived, which can be fatal in this profession. An article presented to me in lieu of becoming intentional with my energy written by Thomas & Morris (Vistas 2017), sponsored by the American Counseling Association, advocated for a self-care model that helped counselors manage compassion fatigue, burnout, and vicarious trauma that can be incurred through the workload of the profession. After reading this model I was stunned at how easily it could apply to coaches, athletes, and frankly everybody regardless of profession or status.

This model advocates for taking care of the Self in four distinct dimensions of health:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Emotional
  4. Spiritual

From these four dimensions we create a plan of nourishing activities we can comfortably maintain week after week. We then want to support this original plan with restorative activities when we are anticipating stress in the upcoming week, prepare a list of emergency activities for unanticipated stress, and meet regularly with peers, other athletes and coaching colleagues for support.

Plan and Adjust a Self Care Plan

The key aspect of this self-care plan is to recognize that we have to show ourselves the same compassion we show our athletes, and our athletes show their peers, when engaging in their plan. There will be weeks where we don’t feel like engaging in our planned activities because they feel daunting, we lack the energy, etc. It is alright for us to re-organize our self-care plan to adjust to the evolving demands of our everyday lives. Even the smallest amount of self-care can help!  It will also be up to us coaches to recognize that our duty is to engage in our self-care plan for the benefit of our athletes. Many coaches are coming from their full days and may not arrive with a full-tank of energy to give to the athletes who crave their feedback.

Here is a Self-Care Cheat Sheet to help you organize your plan

Spend some time at the beginning of each week to start planning out when you are going engage in the bare-minimum of self-care activities based on your schedule and when you can add self-care activities depending on the expected intensity of your week. By filling in activities that can fulfill each of the four dimensions, you will have a growing and evolving list of nourishing activities to pull from based on the changing seasons, income, environment, etc.

Lastly, as an organization, clubs can recognize their coaches’ level of burnout and/or compassion fatigue, supporting them with time-off so they can recharge and come back to the gym when they feel ready.

Frequent Check-Ins

Our athletes often believe that they need more individual or group training, strength and conditioning, or cross-training to stay at the peak of their Volleyball skill and can neglect relationships with their friends, family, loved ones, academic and vocational
obligations. Frequently check-in with your athletes to get an idea of their lifestyle outside of the gym, their general energy level, and their sleeping and nutritional habits to help them advocate for a break to recover and rejuvenate.

Coaches can check-in if:

  1. They observe frequent moods of anger, frustration, irritability, and sadness
  2. Their athletes posture has changed to consistently slumped/hunched-over
  3. If athletes seem lethargic, apathetic, and generally uncoordinated.
  4. If you notice new patterns of social withdrawal, taking more frequent water/bathroom breaks, consistently injured/asking for ice, or spending considerably less effort within drills.

Athletes are more prone to hiding their levels of burnout (saving face in order to not appear weak and inhibit their overall opportunities), and will instead talk mostly to “all of the work they have to get done”, “not having enough time”, and/or frequently talking about things they “should, need, or have to do” that they are not actually engaging with. Stay mindful of their responsibilities and obligations and suggest that they protect their energy and give themselves permission to take breaks for themselves (to engage in self-care activities). Younger athletes may need a bit more attentiveness and suggestions towards how they want to address what is coming up. They don’t know what they don’t know after all!

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About the Author

Rob Samp is the Mental Performance Coach for MOD Volleyball, a JVA member club in Chicago, Illinois. He currently holds the title of LPC within the State of Illinois, utilizing EMDR and Brainspotting to work with complex PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety around Cook County, IL.  Samp has nearly a decade of coaching experience at the junior and collegiate level. He is grateful to be continuing his pursuit for facilitating performance excellence within MOD, as well as the universities around the Chicagoland area. Click here for Samp’s contact information and website.