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Where do coaches go?

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You know what’s weird to me? Dentists a lot of times don’t have great teeth.  Some doctors never take their own advice. There are many out of shape but very effective fitness experts.

AND many coaches who spend a significant time working on building bonds and connections on their team are terrible at building a support team for themselves.

We make the team close knit, connected, supporting, and we build a strong culture to help them grow. But unless you’re at the professional level you are likely lacking much of a support team around yourself. You might have a part time assistant, or a parent volunteer, or an admin or athletic director.  But we spend a lot of time being the strong, knowledgeable adult for them so that we can show that we are, in fact, very competent and passionate about our jobs. They appreciate that of course; no one wants a hot mess of a leader, it creates all sorts of concerns.

But what about when we aren’t? What about when we doubt ourselves? We can’t show that side because then they might question our ability. Heck, we might question our ability! Often!

But the truth is, those moments come no matter how great of a coach we may be. Sometimes they come here and there, and sometimes they flood us in a way that we are emotionally and mentally drowning while wearing our encouraging mask of aptitude until we get over it.

If my strongest bond is with my team, then I can certainly be vulnerable in front of them which helps. But there’s a limit, isn’t there? We can’t fall apart and blubber about how we feel like a failure and don’t know what to do. That might not be a good idea for instilling faith in our athletes, and we know that. But to be honest, sometimes we feel that way and it’s got to go somewhere.

So the question is, where do coaches go? Coach group therapy? (only half joking..) Have we built a support team of people who have been where we are and can understand those moments? Is there a place to connect and be free to feel weak and lost and then be refueled and ready to head back into our difficult job of leading young people and balancing the demands of often dueling sides?

The past two weeks I’ve struggled to wear my mask. I’ve put it on wishing I didn’t have too, but it’s been so plastic that even I can’t pretend it’s real.  I’m grieving. I’m confused. I’m trying to help players who are grieving. I’m balancing helping them and myself move on through feelings of not moving on at all. I’m defending them and myself from people who think we shouldn’t be affected as deeply as we are or who think enough time has passed. I had a terrible realization this week as I felt myself struggling to adult through this one. I have built a strong bond with a team and have isolated myself from any sort of support as a leader, because I don’t want to appear weak.

As coaches we tend to help each other out, but often our competitive and type A nature keeps us from really showing our vulnerabilities. People who are in charge rarely want to turn around and admit that right now, we just can’t.  We are afraid -would anyone ever trust us as leader again if we did? We may pretty easily let off steam when we think something isn’t fair, but many of us rarely sit down with another coach and say the words – I think I’m failing right now. I’m feeling weak. I’m not sure of what I’m doing in this moment, despite knowing that I am trying as hard as I can to do things right. I’m hurting and I am not getting over it fast enough.

Ironic, really, because I don’t know a single coach that doesn’t feel that way here and there at every level.

So, we stuff it. And we continue on. And some of us eventually quit. Because the candle is going to burn down at some point. Even if we keep relighting it ourselves with our incredible stubbornness that makes us a good coach to begin with. Eventually, there’s no more wax, no more wick to light, no more energy to carry the flame. There isn’t a bottomless supply of grit that we’re born with. But it is renewable, if we build a support system to help it grow.

I got screamed at, a full-on belly yell, by an athletic director of another team. The reason? Canceling a moved game because the new time put my team at risk for getting home safely. As an adult who’s capable, a coach who has seen pretty hot bouts of anger from parents or admin before, and a kind of no BS person in general, I simply ended the conversation and hung up. But as a human, a person struggling already with incredibly hard decisions, a broken heart, and a broken team that I was trying to do right by, I felt punched in the gut and had to figure out how to recover, continue my plan to get my team back home safely, and still be a positive leader.

 As coaches do, we find a way to recover for our team’s sake. But then you go home, and you’re empty, raw, and have this incredible void that needs support to help you recover.  I talked to a fellow coach, and then another, and I found myself crawling out of the hole I felt trapped in and much less alone in my struggles.  I had to face the fact that I need a support system, whether I want to admit it or not, and that I hadn’t put nearly enough time into connecting and bonding outside of my team structure when my immediate surroundings wasn’t providing the support I needed.

My friends and coaches out there who are team building rock stars, connected, compassionate, loving and leading with the tightest of teams, don’t forget to build your support team as well. Don’t neglect to surround yourself with other coaches who can listen, empathize, advise, refocus, reframe, and reenergize. Don’t feel like weakness is incompetence, or failure is fatal, or that doubt is a sign of inexperience. Those are a part of the job, and the sooner we stand up and say it, the sooner we can build each other up and do what we are here to do. Lead, connect, and develop our athletes in sports and in life, and just as importantly, find growth, connection and development for ourselves

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