By Richelle Rindlisbacher
It’s day four of yet another grueling week, and so far you’ve had three practices, two games, and one night of lost sleep. You realize as you strain to keep your eyes open throughout the workday that you’ve reached your seasonal coaching slump. Every coach knows it. It typically shows up deep into the season—You’ve had that exciting first competition, but you’re still miles away from your last.
Winter sports are in full swing, and with Christmas break over you know your next chance to rest likely won’t come until June or July. At this point you’ve probably dealt with plenty of hiccups—from injuries, to issues with a routine, to budgeting crises, eligibility changes, and that one parent who is set on questioning your every move. How can you keep an upbeat, fresh outlook when the season’s got you jaded, exhausted, and just plain burned out? Try some of these ideas to carry you through:
Shake things up
Don’t be afraid to try a new approach or to switch up practices. One of my favorites is to have a Zumba day—you can usually find a person who works at a local gym who will come for 30 minutes to an hour to work your kids out. Check out how much they charge and see if your kids could all pitch in $5 for a fun practice.
Another way to change up the routine is to give the kids creative ways to do run-throughs of the routine. This could be that they all have to pretend to be a T-rex as they do the cheer, or give everyone a different Emoji that they must “act out” while they do the music section. Your team will love the chance to be silly while also engraining things like counts, formations, and showmanship into their heads. It will be a great laugh for Coach, too!
One more option is to let the kids take charge at a practice. Allow your team to choose what they will work on and have them direct everything. Bring a Diet Coke and sit back. Wait–What? Sit down? YES! It can be hard to let go, but you may find your kids know just what they need to do, and will impress you with their motivation when given the chance to be self driven. This also gives you a much needed break from the weight of competition season that often seems to rest most heavily on coaches’ shoulders.
If you’re feeling like you can’t make it through one more three hour practice, give one of these ideas a shot! You may be surprised at how taking a day or two to do something totally different can be so rejuvenating!
Feeling low because of nonstop problems? Troubleshoot what’s working and what’s not, and focus on realistic solutions you can use now. At this point in the season it’s not beneficial to create lots of upheaval or changes that will throw off your team. Instead, look for ways to improve what you’ve already got in small, but impactful ways. For example, if you notice that your team is just not hitting that extended lib—before reworking your entire stunt sequence, try going back through progressions. You will likely find the point where their technique is holding them back and you can address that problem head on.
Do you have a cheerleader who suddenly cannot participate in the next competition? I bet you do, because it happens to us all at least once per season! This can be frustrating to you as a coach because it disrupts the vision you have for your routine, but it is important to think logically about the simplest adjustments you can make and still have things run smoothly, although it may not be what you had hoped for. Don’t overwhelm yourself by changing everything—change only what you must.
Taking a pragmatic approach can help remove the stress and emotion that we all feel when dealing with a coaching problem. Assess the situation and find the best way you can fix it—now!
Setting short term goals with your team is another great way to problem solve. A few months ago, my cheerleaders told us something so poignant. They came off of 2016 on a high—they won a national championship! As we prepped for the new comp season we kept telling them that they were champions, that we are going back to defend our championship, and didn’t they want to be champions? They finally told us after a rough start to competition season that they felt overwhelmed by the pressure of this big, lofty goal. They said they would like to take a more step-by-step approach. So we adjusted our speech to encouraging them to work hard to qualify for nationals.
Now that we have qualified for nationals, we are now pushing to make it to finals. Once we made that change, we noticed that our team had more energy and purpose, as well as us coaches. Creating long term goals is essential to success, but with a 12 month cheer season it’s important to remember those short term goals as well. If you notice you are feeling burned out, or that your kids are struggling, it may be time to create some new short term goals to refresh your drive.
Finding another coach to bounce ideas off of and to express your feelings to can be extremely helpful in overcoming burnout as well. It is highly likely that this coach has experienced similar problems and can tell you the ways they solved them. It’s always heartening to hear that you are not alone and that there are ways to get over the many hurdles we experience as cheer coaches!
Take care of yourself.
One big reason coaches feel so exhausted by mid-season is that we often forget to take care of ourselves! I know that many things in my personal life take a backseat during comp season, especially. Remember that your team needs you at your best, and you can’t be your best if you don’t take the time to listen to your own needs.
While you may be busy from 6:00 a.m. until well after 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. on many nights, there are still small windows that you can find to refill your tank. This may be treating yourself to a quiet meal before practice or taking a warm soak in the tub after. Either way, make a goal to do one thing a day that’s just for you!
Additionally, savor the quiet moments, though they may be few and far between. When you have a chance to stop and catch your breath, or shut your eyes for longer than a blink, take it! Indulging in those little things can help you through the rest of a challenging day, week, and season.
Find the fun!
I had a principal who would tell me and my fellow teachers this often. It is normal to feel a bit down-trodden and exhausted at least once during the season, but the one thing we can always do is find the fun in every practice, every day! Focus on that part of practice you really love, engage with your kids and enjoy them.
One of the greatest perks about working with young people is getting to experience their energy and zest for life! I love coming home with hilarious stories from practice to tell my husband. And don’t worry—once you have your kids trained on expectations it’s okay to be silly and laugh with your team! Be brave and get on the mat, perform the routine for the kids (as long as they promise not to put you on social media later!), or invite your supportive parents to come bring treats to the team.
And always keep in mind that while the days are long, the years are short. Our time with our kids is finite, so always remember to look for the things that make that time great!
In addition to the boundless amounts energy that being a great coach takes, it also takes a lot of heart, motivation, and determination on your part as well. No matter how difficult things can get, always keep your chin up and remember you are doing great things for kids!!