Empowering coaches: Practical tips for reducing coaching fatigue
We have all been there...
Someone asks if it's from the rack or the floor after you clearly briefed it at the whiteboard, and you find your blood is beginning to boil.
Or the lessons from that day have all merged into each other, and you can no longer recall what happened with who and/or when.
Or it's the fourth class in a row, and you find yourself just staring at the participants moving, and you are no longer seeing how they move.
We go home, we sleep, and the next day we don't get irritated, we remember what has happened in each lesson that day, we not only see movement we provide quality feedback on it. We were tired the day before, but we managed to recharge.
But what if it is the same the next day? And the day after? And the day after that?
Fatigue has set in.
Physical and mental fatigue.
It becomes harder and harder to recharge.
In fact due to the fatigue, we might start skipping things like social engagements, maybe our training slips a bit, maybe our diet gets a bit sloppy. We prioritise our work (because at the end of the day we all need to earn a living), and we no longer do the things we normally do to take care of our physical and mental well-being.
We become overloaded, we become overstretched.
And if nothing changes...burnout.
A collapse in physical and mental health.
Now let me be very clear before we go any further, if you feel that fatigue has set in, or it has gotten as far as feeling overloaded and overstretched, let your support system know, and seek professional help.
Not tomorrow. Not next week.
Since coaching fatigue can be one of the early warning signs that something is not quite right, let's have a closer look at what it looks like, and most importantly, what steps we can take in our own coaching to reduce the risk of it.
What does coaching fatigue look like?
CrossFit ® coaching is a demanding profession that requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and energy. Coaches are responsible for teaching complex movements, planning and delivering varied and intense workouts, motivating their athletes, providing high-quality feedback, and maintaining a high level of energy during classes. With all these demands, it's no surprise that coaching fatigue is a real issue that coaches face.
Coaching fatigue can manifest in various ways and can be a real challenge for coaches. Common signs of coaching fatigue include:
irritability and mood swings
frequent illnesses can also be a sign of coaching fatigue
developing a negative or cynical attitude
loss of enjoyment
If you notice signs of fatigue in one of your (fellow) coaches, sit down with them, ask them how they are doing, and share with them your concerns. Encourage them to seek help and let them know they are not alone.
Practical steps to prevent coaching fatigue
As a coach, you're no stranger to the importance of self-care, work-life balance, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. While we can't emphasise enough the significance of these factors, our focus in this blog post is on offering practical steps specific to your coaching practice that can help reduce the mental load and stave off coaching fatigue.
Before Your Lessons:
Preparation is key in reducing mental load and stress while coaching. We could spend multiple blog posts diving into the details of lesson planning but at a minimum, for your own mental wellbeing, we would recommend identifying the following:
Potential bottle necks - We are aware that this sounds obvious, but many coaches start their lesson knowing they have bottle necks (e.g. the 20' AMRAP has to be started 25 minutes before the end of lesson), but do not know what steps they are going to take to ensure they are not going to cause an issue. Whether it is timing, availability of equipment or the amount of material/space a participant needs, identify the potential bottle necks and plan what steps you will take to during the lesson to address these potential issues (see below for some ideas).
Scaling and modification options - As a coach you do not have to offer the thousands of different scaling option that is possible for a movement, especially a high skilled movement. Identify what 2-3 scaling options you want to offer to allow participants to work on the strength and/or coordination needed for that skill. Also identify the modification options for common limitations such as shoulder or knee injuries. By having the options prepared, you no longer have to think about it during the lesson, and your mental load is reduced,
Teaching, seeing & correcting focus - Consider what point of performance you are going to put your focus on for those lessons, and what movement progressions and coaching techniques can support teaching this. Notice that it is a singular point of performance that you will focus on, and it should be based on the most common movement issues you see with your members. This of course does not mean that you will not address other points of performance if needed, but having one focus point for all the participants to be working on across all the classes you are teaching that day will reduce your mental load while coaching.
During the lessons:
These are some potential strategies for reducing mental load and stress while coaching:
Embrace the countdown timer - We use the timer for the workouts, but we can also use it for ourselves. If you know you have 18 minutes for the strength section of the lesson where you need to explain the movement , intended stimulus etc. AND the participants have to do the work AND the material has to be cleaned away, then before you even call the participants to the whiteboard set the countdown timer to 18 minutes. Not only does it help you to address potential timing bottle necks, but it also clearly shows to the participants how much time they have left and they won't need to ask you...or at least are less likely to need to ask you :)
Write down the scaling and modification options - Having the options written clearly on the board, although not reducing the number of participants who will come to you after the whiteboard briefing to zero, it will reduce the number of potential discussions. This will also give (the more experienced) participants more time to consider the guidelines and in turn it is more likely that the most appropriate scaling and/or modification is chosen. As a bonus it also gives something for participants to refer to during the training itself, which also reduces the number of potential questions.
Draw the floor plan - Having a clear floor plan that participants can use when setting up multiple pieces of equipment not only supports them setting up the equipment in a reasonable time, but it also creates a safer training and working environment. Or maybe the workout will use stations with different equipment and/or movements, on the floor write the name and number of reps of the movement and an arrow to where they have to go next. By creating a plan the participants themselves can follow reduces you own mental load.
Outside the lessons:
There are also a number of strategies you can use outside of a lesson that can help reduce your overall mental load.
Set realistic expectations - Acknowledge the limits of your capacity and energy, and set achievable goals for yourself. You need to be aware that pushing ourselves to "teach every hour like it is the first hour of the day" only sets us up for failure. There is no way anyone can do this as you only have one "first hour of the day". Instead, set yourself an achievable goal for the set of classes you will be teaching that day. It can be anything from using everyone's name twice in a class, to finishing each class on time, to making sure every participant has had three feedback moments from you. Setting realistic expectations can reduce mental load and frustrations in oneself while coaching
Schedule Time Off - This is one of the most basic and practical steps towards self-care. Book your next day off, even if it's months away, even if you don't know what you are going to do. Having a break to look forward to can help you stay motivated and recharge when needed.
Network with other coaches - Connect with other coaches whether it is inside or outside your own box. A network of peers gives you the opportunity to be supported by others who understand the coaching context. Attend courses and events to connect, share experiences, learn new techniques, and gain fresh perspectives. This can help you grow professionally and keep your passion for coaching alive.
Acknowledge External Stressors - Recognise other sources of stress in your life, such as family, other work, financial concerns, and health issues. Having a better overview of these challenges can help you set realistic expectations for your own coaching. Recognising the sources of stress is also the first step in being able to address them.
In a nutshell, warding off coaching fatigue is key to keeping the fire for CrossFit alive while offering top-notch experiences to your members. Implementing these strategies can reduce your mental load while coaching, help you be less vulnerable to coaching fatigue and maintain a sustainable coaching career.
A call to action to the CrossFit ® ecosystem
Coaching fatigue (and burnout) is a real issue that many CrossFit ® coaches face, and it's something that we as a community need to address. So, what can we do to support our coaches and reduce the risk of coaching fatigue and burnout? Here are some actionable steps:
Show appreciation - Take the time to show your coach that you appreciate their hard work and dedication. Say thank you, leave a positive review, or give them a small gift to show your gratitude.
Prioritise coach development - Invest in your coaches' professional development by providing them with ongoing education and training opportunities to help them stay up-to-date with the latest coaching techniques and strategies. And if you are not an affiliate owner, encourage your affiliate owner to do so.
Support work-life balance - Encourage your coaches to prioritise rest, recovery, and self-care by giving them flexible schedules and time off. Ask them how the other aspects of their life is going so you can appreciate the big picture they are operating in, and in turn support them in their work-life balance.
Foster a positive community culture - Build a positive and supportive culture within your affiliate that values and celebrates the hard work of athletes and coaches alike.
Advocate for fair compensation - Pay your coaches a fair wage that reflects their hard work, dedication, and value to the affiliate.
Let's all do our part to support our coaches and prevent coaching fatigue and burnout. Our coaches are the lifeblood of our CrossFit ® community, and we owe it to them to make sure they have the support and resources they need to thrive. Together, we can build a stronger and more resilient CrossFit ecosystem.
Supporting all aspects of coaching
At Virtuous Coach Development, we're committed to addressing all facets of coach development, and mental health is just as crucial as any other aspect of coaching. Whether it's at the affiliate, team, or individual level with our support, expertise, and experience, you'll acquire the tailor-made knowledge and skills essential to elevate your coaching game (or that of your team).
Feel free to schedule a 30 minute call to have a chat over coffee (or whatever you want!) about your affiliate, team, or your own coaching.