Question of the Day

How do you help your coaches and athletes deal with the stress of competitive athletics?

By Jim Catalano

Jim Catalano is an Associate Editor at Athletic Management.

Athletic Management, 14.2, February/March 2002, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1402/question.htm

Mike Roth
Athletic Director
Gonzaga University

Stress is a part of our business, especially in coaching, and part of the life student-athletes choose to partake in when they make the decision to compete. They're viewed differently than other students, just as coaches are viewed differently from other employees, and there are added stresses and responsibilities that go with it.

We don't have a staff psychologist, but we do discuss stress with our student-athletes and coaches. The main thing I talk about is to be aware of it so we can deal with it. A theme that's big at our school is that we're all in this together, and that we're here for each other. Our stresses aren't always coming at the same time, so when a coach or student is in a stressful situation, others are there for them to lean on.

The other thing we do is get together as a staff and do things that are enjoyable, whether it's a golf outing, water-skiing during the summer, or a Christmas party with a gift exchange. Something like that allows us to relax and lets the stresses be put off for another day.

With our student-athletes, we also do community projects to make them understand that there are people out there who are less fortunate. We go to the Shriners Hospital to see the kids there who have orthopedic or burn injuries, and every year we build a Habitat for Humanity house. That gives our student-athletes a better perspective: "I've got some stress in my life, but at least I don't have to worry about paying the rent tomorrow"or "I'm in good shape physically, while that person is in a wheelchair."Those things sometimes help the stresses melt away.


Tim Selgo
Athletic Director
Grand Valley State University

Many stresses come from budgetary restrictions or not having the support to accomplish goals. So I think the best thing to alleviate stress among coaches is to provide them with the resources and support so that they can succeed. I also think it's important to allow coaches to have input in decisions. They're on the front lines every day dealing with student-athletes and the pressures of coaching, and while you're not going to eliminate all that stress, it's important to let them know you have a genuine listening ear.

When they do a job well, make sure they get the praise and credit for it. But most importantly, when things are going tough, they need an encouraging word. That can help them through stressful times as much as anything.

With regard to student-athletes, one of the things I do is be very mindful of the demands on their time--not only in their school work, but in their athletics participation. Many people want student-athletes involved in volunteering or community service programs. We encourage our student-athletes to participate, but we're also aware of the demands on their time. They've got a lot of stress on them between sports and school work, and they really ought to have time to just be students, too.


Ian McCaw
Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Campus Recreation
Northeastern University

We do exit interviews once our student-athletes have exhausted their eligibility, and a lot of them say that at times in their career they did get to a point where they felt overwhelmed. We believe we need to make sure we're there to help them through those particular times.

Through our Life Skills program we've run some time-management workshops for student-athletes, and we've done an offshoot of that for our staff. We regularly talk to our coaches and student-athletes about how to manage challenging times when they have a lot coming their way. It's been one of the most effective things we've done.

We rely on coaches to identify when certain athletes are stressed out, and if I notice a particular coach seems overwhelmed, I try to pull him or her aside. But the profession is inherently stressful, and it's amazing people do as well as they do.


Joy Richman
Athletic Director
East Stroudsburg University

My dissertation research looked at stress in coaching, so I have an interest in the topic. What you find is that there are "hassles"and "uplifts"in coaching, and you try to minimize the hassles and create more uplifts that you can celebrate. There are a couple of other things I try to do.

I encourage coaches to have a scheduled time for themselves so they have a release or escape from the pressures of the day. That might be a hobby, a sport they still love participating in, or spending time with family--anything to get their minds off the stresses of the day. Also, my door's always open if they want to talk about something that is bothering them. My position is, how can I facilitate their success by providing what they need for their program?

If a coach seems stressed out, I don't mind asking directly about it. I'll often suggest they take a couple of days to find some release that will take them away from the pressures. Whether they take me up on it depends on the time of the year, but usually they know before I know whether they need to take some time off for themselves.

In terms of athletes, we have a Student-Athlete Center for Excellence here, in which sport psychologists, exercise physiologists, counselors, academic counselors, and sport managers help athletes with the parts of the athletic experience that are off the practice and playing fields. The center also provides educational programming such as time management, study skills, nutrition for optimal performance, group dynamics, and weight control.


Kristin Ford
Director of Athletics
Ithaca College

Our philosophy has always been to allow the coaches to coach. So, if my associate athletic director, Mike Lindberg, and I can help them with any administrative tasks and duties, we do. For example, if we're hosting an NCAA tournament game, we identify staffers who can run the tournament and manage the details so the coach doesn't have to worry about it.

It comes down to knowing your staff and being available so that you can have those conversations asking, "Where can I help you to make your job easier?"We've tried to focus on being available and having a feel for what's going on in their lives.

This year, I also asked a sports psychologist to address the staff on specific topics related to coaching. We're trying to help the coaches in a range of areas--for example, recruiting is more challenging than ever, so we try to help them utilize their time better.

For our student-athletes, we have an extensive Life Skills program. We conduct a lot of programming geared toward helping the student-athlete develop that broad experience.

But the Sept. 11 attacks set off a light bulb in my head--we were focusing on whether the athletes should practice or play, and it dawned on me, "We're talking about taking care of the athletes, but how are the coaches all handling this?"We sometimes assume that coaches are professionals and they just go on and forget about the stresses associated with what they do, but that opened my eyes that we need to continue to focus on this.


Andy Geiger
Director of Athletics
Ohio State University

The way our department is organized administratively, each of our three associate athletic directors is involved with a group of sports. That allows them to be available for many things, including helping the coaches and athletes deal with stress.

We have two psychologists on staff, and we have a very vigorous Life Skills program, both of which are helpful in assisting student-athletes cope with stress. I've also told some of my coaches to take a day off when I've noticed that they seemed stressed out.


Harry Sheehy
Athletic Director
Williams College

I think the coaching profession as a whole is stressed out. Whether it's Division I, II or III, a good bit of that stress is self-imposed, because we're all competitive people. I think as athletic directors, we deal with these things seasonally with any number of coaches at all our institutions.

The students attracted to Williams tend to do a dozen things, so I think it's really incumbent on us in the athletic department to realize how much these kids are trying to cram into their lives, and to react as a pressure valve whenever we can. The main way we do it is to make sure that a sound departmental philosophy exists, and that we communicate and articulate that philosophy to our staff and players. I try to meet with all the teams and let them know what we think is important.

We don't have any programs on stress management per se, although we may look at that in the future. But if you have a sound department philosophy, that goes a long way toward helping your coaches and athletes cope with whatever stresses come along.