Coaches have to increasingly deal with emotional and physical stress that can influence their well-being and significantly reduce their passion and fulfillment. They face stressors including increased expectations, managing varying personalities, addressing athlete concerns, divisive social media platforms, recruiting wars, numerous administrative details, lack of financial resources, sacrificing personal time, and isolation. 

Many professions, including the areas of education, medicine, social work, first responders and law enforcement are known to also have a high prevalence of chronic job stress and burnout. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% reported feeling burnt out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burnt out sometimes. No one is immune from burnout. 

Although a uniform definition of burnout does not exist, research in the field of sport and especially coaches has mainly focused on the widely accepted concept of burnout by Maslach und Jackson. They identified key symptoms of burnout, which included emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment.

Personality has been identified as a factor in coaching burnout. The coaching profession finds goal-oriented, success-driven, caring and committed people who work long hours and sacrifice personal lives to foster and nurture the development of athletes. Many work for the love of sport and the love of their athletes. Pay, while important, is often secondary in the eyes of the coach.

In May 2019, the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases 11th edition (ICD), which categorizes diseases for diagnosis by health care professionals and determines coverage by health insurers, was published, and burnout was classified as an official medical diagnosis for the first time. This new diagnosis is defined as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.”

In what is thought to be one of the largest educational studies on burnout completed by the “Not Waiting for Superman” project, with approximately 10,000 respondents of teachers and coaches, an overwhelming number are experiencing burnout or are on their way to it.


Many coaches have historically “worn the causes” of burnout as a badge of honor. Causes such as working long hours, extensive travel, lack of sleep, lack of uninterrupted family time, self-induced pressure to win and poor nutrition. However, those issues are now just the starting point.

In the contemporary sports environment, “new” 21st century stressors are now requirements for the job of coach, which will require a different approach to managing one’s well-being and to rekindle his or her inner-fire and passion for success.

Written by: Dr. Patrick Elliott


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