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What Qualities Make A Great Sports Coach?

A great coach has several unique traits — here’s what they are.

Coaches play a fundamental role in mentoring the next generation of athletes. 

Naturally, some coaches are better than others. That’s why the very best coaches mentor the greatest athletes. Think: Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Eliud Kipchoge… the list goes on. But how do coaches go from being good, to great? What makes some sports coaches that much better than others?

Related: What Separates a Good Coach From a Great Coach?

That’s what this blog post is all about. We explain key traits and qualities of great sports coaches. If you’re a coach, there are definitely a few takeaways you can use to improve your coaching further. There’s something for everyone, whether you coach youth athletics, track and field, or professional sports.

Here’s why some sports coaches are better than others…

What are the qualities of a great coach?

So, what makes a great coach? What qualities do some coaches have that others do not?

  • An expert understanding of their sport
  • Effective communication
  • The willingness to share knowledge 
  • Commitment, discipline, and passion

An expert understanding of their sport

Many of the great coaches were also athletes in the same sport.

For example, Phil Jackson won an NBA title with the New York Knicks as a player in 1973; Kenny Dalglish, a professional footballer player for Liverpool, Celtic, and Scotland, later went on to manage Liverpool, and Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest professional hockey player of all time, was also head coach at the Phoenix Coyotes.

While it’s not a requirement that the best coaches also be players, their first-hand athlete experience can certainly lend itself to a better understanding of the sport that they coach and how their athletes operate.

Athletes who turn into coaches can pass on their knowledge. They can better relate to their athletes — they know what works, what it feels like to be a player, and what it takes to reach the highest level, especially if they achieved great success as an elite athlete.

Effective communication

The importance of effective communication is coaching 101. But being able to state goals and expectations and deliver feedback clearly is a fundamental component of being a great coach.

But as you already know, communication is a two-way street. It takes two (or more) people to have a conversation. A great coach listens to their athletes — they know how they feel about training, if they’re experiencing any niggles or pains, and also share their goals so the coach can help them reach their full potential.

Likewise, coaches should also look out for the well-being of their athletes. This includes an awareness of burnout — they should know the key signs to support their athletes and should be able to provide recovery advice if needed.

Despite this, there are countless stories of coaches not listening to their athletes, and this happens not only in grassroots sports, but also at the elite level. 

Take Mary Cain, for example—she was the fastest girl in America until she joined the Nike Oregon Project under the supervision of Alberto Salazar. In a touching piece for the New York Times, Cain describes how her coach and coaching team did not listen to her needs, encouraged her to lose an unhealthy amount of weight, and even drove her to the point of having suicidal thoughts.

This is a perfect example of what not to do as a coach. Coaches should do quite the opposite: they need to support their athletes, listen to their concerns, have open conversations with their athletes and actually listen to what they are saying.

The role of a coach is to support their athletes — this needs to be the number one priority. 

The willingness to share knowledge

A great coach not only tells their athletes what to do — what sessions to perform and when to take it easy — but they tell their athletes WHY they are doing it.

Sharing their knowledge provides athletes with a reason to do what they are doing. It adds context to those gruelling workouts — if an athlete knows that it’ll make them faster, they are more likely to commit to their training fully.

This is especially true with individual sports, such as track and field events. A lot of training is done solo — if there’s ever the need for a little added motivation, it’s when you’re tackling an interval session alone on the track.

Commitment, discipline, and passion 

A great coach has an infectious energy — they share their commitment and passion on the track, on the field, and in the locker room. 

Athletes want coaches who can motivate and inspire them — this is an especially useful trait during challenging training sessions and intense competition.

A passionate coach can talk about their sport for hours. They often show great discipline and commitment to each of their athletes, going above and beyond to support them. Many coaches even coach in an unpaid or volunteer role — these are the coaches who really love what they do, supporting the youth and grassroots athletes, in particular.

Of course, you can be a paid coach with commitment, discipline, and an infectious passion for your sport. But having these three traits can make a world of difference for your athletes. 

Coaches can use Rewire to improve athlete performance 

If you’re a coach, whether you train older adolescents or adults, you can use Rewire to gain a better holistic understanding of your athletes. For example, you can measure their daily readiness, identify trends in performance, assess recovery and fatigue states, and even recognise physiological, cognitive, and emotional domains which may affect performance.

Rewire for Teams provides coaches with the tools to make informed coaching recommendations while supporting the health and wellness of their athletes.

Rewire is the best tool for coaches and practitioners — you can take your coaching a step further with new insights to support your athletes more holistically.

Book a free consultation today to learn more about how Rewire can help your team.

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How to Recognise Burnout in Youth Sports

Here’s how to recognise burnout to prevent a mix of physical and emotional stressors. 

Burnout in youth sports might just be more common than we think — with young athletes wanting to be professional football players, gymnasts, swimmers, runners, and everything in between, it can be difficult to find the line between “hard work” and “overtraining.” 

So, it likely comes as no surprise that it’s very common for young athletes to specialise in one given sport from an early age. Besides, it makes the most sense if they want to turn professional, right? Kind of — more on this below.

Whether that’s gymnastics, swimming, tennis, or running, for example, the physical and emotional costs of specialising in one sport are often quite large. Early sport specialisation requires increased training hours and may expose youth athletes to increased social isolation, including less time with family, increased stress and anxiety, and the big one: burnout.

Yep, burnout — hello again, old friend. 

But understanding burnout in youth sports is not as simple as reducing the time or dedication spent towards one given sport — it’s much more complicated than that. For instance, other factors may result in burnout, including increased school demands, a lack of recovery, success from an early age, low self-esteem, the list goes… These burnout risks are taken from Gustaffson and colleagues — although less is known about burnout and youth sport, we should still take these into consideration.  

So, this blog post will highlight what we do know — we’ll provide a quick burnout definition, we’ll touch on early sport specialisation, how to prevent burnout in youth athletes, and how to recognise the signs of burnout sooner rather than later.

What is burnout in youth sports?

We’ve covered athlete burnout in previous blog posts, but before we discuss how to recognise the signs of burnout — and how to prevent it — we need to provide a quick definition.

Burnout is often described as a lasting experience of physical and emotional exhaustion. 

For example, youth athletes who encounter burnout may feel unmotivated to train and are likely to experience a reduced sense of self-accomplishment. And most notably, the physical and emotional drain may lead to the young athlete quitting and withdrawing from their sport, as suggested by a 2007 study.

Early sport specialisation vs. early sport diversification 

Let’s start with what is thought to be the biggest risk factor for burnout in youth athletes…

Early sport specialisation involves a youth athlete focusing — or as instructed by a coach — on one sport. The two main sports culprits that come to mind are swimming and gymnastics. Although, it can be virtually any sport out there, from tennis to ping pong. 

The main problem, however, is the risk factors that come with specialising in one sport. And yes, you guessed it correctly, burnout is a part of it.

Anyways, risk factors of early sport specialisation may include:

  • Excessive training 
  • Balancing school/work demands becomes difficult and energy draining 
  • Lack of recovery between training sessions
  • Social constraints 

These risk factors are taken from the integrated model of athlete burnout. Other risk factors around various personality, coping, and environmental factors exist, too. But the above factors appear the most relevant for youth sports.

So, this poses the question: should youth athletes specialise from a young age, or should they play a mix of sports (sport diversification)?

Well, this debate has been going on for years. But researchers have provided guidelines to prevent overtraining and burnout. These guidelines are as follows:  

  • Keep workouts interesting — add games and keep it fun.
  • Allow at least 1 to 2 days a week for rest — participation in other activities is allowed.
  • Add longer scheduled breaks from training every 2 to 3 months — focus on other activities or cross-train to prevent a loss of skill and/or conditioning.
  • Teach athletes wellness and how to be in tune with their bodies — this will help reduce overtraining and the risk of injury. The Rewire app has numerous mindset recovery sessions that can help young athletes sleep better, improve focus and concentration, and even enhance recovery. 

A few tips on how to recognise burnout 

Burnout and overtraining go hand in hand. And although the research on youth athlete burnout is not as well publicised, we can take research from the adult population to help recognise common overtraining and burnout signs, as suggested in a study by the National Library of Medicine.  

Overtraining and burnout signs to look out for include:

  • A loss of appetite 
  • Muscle soreness 
  • Difficulty sleeping/sleep disturbances
  • Muscle twitches
  • Decreased motivation
  • A lack of concentration
  • Decreased self-confidence 
  • Common colds, sniffles, and coughs

These are a few of the main signs of overtraining in athletes. Recognising these early and introducing rest, recovery, and a period of less intense training is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of burnout and overtraining syndrome. 

To summarise  

Increasing awareness of the risk factors associated with burnout and overtraining in youth sports is key to preventing burnout. 

Coaches, parents, teachers, and others should have an understanding of what causes burnout to reduce the risk. Also, those in a coaching position should strive to keep workouts fun and interesting, allow a minimum of 1 to 2 days of rest a week, and should schedule longer breaks from training every 2 to 3 months — perhaps during seasonal holidays, to further reduce the risk of burnout.

And finally, the argument against early sport specialisation should not be ignored. 

If a young athlete does not want to specialise in one sport, then they shouldn’t exclusively focus on that one sport. Instead, coaches, parents, and teachers may wish to consider encouraging multiple sport participation. Sport diversification keeps things fun and interesting, and may lead to enhanced skill development. And all the while potentially reducing the risk of burnout.

If you’re interested in reading more about burnout, you can read our blog post on athletic burnout and stress.

If you’re a coach reading this, check out Rewire for Teams – our platform that helps coaches train their athletes more effectively by prioritising mental wellness and preventing burnout. Book a free consultation here


References:

Brenner, J.S. and Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 2007. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics, 119(6), pp.1242-1245.

DiFiori, J.P., Benjamin, H.J., Brenner, J.S., Gregory, A., Jayanthi, N., Landry, G.L. and Luke, A., 2014. Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports: a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. British journal of sports medicine, 48(4), pp.287-288.

Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G. and Hassmén, P., 2011. Athlete burnout: An integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), pp.3-24.

Gustafsson, Henrik. “Burnout in competitive and elite athletes.” PhD diss., Örebro universitetsbibliotek, 2007.
Winsley, R. and Matos, N., 2011. Overtraining and elite young athletes. The elite young athlete, 56, pp.97-105.

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5 Ways to Prevent Athlete Burnout in 2023

Understand how to prevent athlete burnout to stay motivated and reduce your risk of injury.

One minute, you’re enjoying training more than ever, and the next, you can’t focus, you don’t want to head out for that training session, and you feel as if that short-lived motivation has been zapped out of your system. So, what happened?

You could be experiencing early signs of athlete burnout — often described as a prolonged experience of physical and emotional exhaustion [4]. Knowing how to recognise and prevent athlete burnout is key — the more you know, the easier it is to stop burnout in its tracks, stopping you from experiencing more severe symptoms and perhaps even an increased risk of picking up an injury.

In this blog post, we’ll provide you with 5 ways to prevent athlete burnout — helping you stay motivated and focused on your training. 

What causes athlete burnout?

Before we dive into how to prevent athlete burnout, we first need to understand what causes athlete burnout.

We’ll give you the CliffNotes version — but if you want to find out more about the causes and how to overcome burnout, you can listen to our podcast with Joe Fuggle, a former Elite GB athlete.

The research surrounding athlete burnout is somewhat conflicting. Some researchers say burnout is caused by the inability to effectively cope with psychosocial stress involved with training and competition [3]. 

On the other hand, others suggest athlete burnout is caused by a mix of factors, including entrapment (high investment, low alternative attractiveness), antecedents (school/work demands, a lack of recovery), and personality and coping factors (low social support, lack of coping skills [5].

Athlete burnout is more complex than it initially appears… but knowing how to prevent it can keep those feelings of decreased motivation and drive at bay.

How to prevent athlete burnout 

Okay, now that you know what it is, let’s discuss how to prevent athlete burnout — after all, that’s why you’re here…

  1. Maintain variety and keep it fun 
  2. Monitor your training load and know the burnout signs 
  3. Prioritise getting quality sleep 
  4. Introduce scheduled periods of rest
  5. Use Rewire to reduce stress and lessen your risk of burnout

1) Maintain Variety and Keep it Fun

Dr Ralph Richards, a former swim coach and sports scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport, mentioned the importance of providing variety in workouts to reduce mental fatigue [6]. This is also a great way to keep your workouts and training fun and interesting.

If you’re a runner, that could mean switching up a session to include some fartlek work (unstructured speed training). A cyclist could add short sweet spot efforts in their weekly long ride. And a swimmer could combine short and long repetitions for a little variety.

Ultimately, if you can keep things interesting, fun, and even slightly unpredictable, you’re more likely to enjoy training. 

So, don’t be afraid to switch things up from time to time — this is also a great reminder for coaches and an excellent tool for keeping youth athletes motivated.

2) Monitor your training load and know the burnout signs 

You wouldn’t run a marathon without former training — so avoid taking the same approach with your training.

Progressive overload is key. Don’t jump in the deep end before learning to swim in the shallow waters.

Gradually increase your training demands over time, allowing your body to adapt and recover without increasing your risk of injury and burnout. 

You should also monitor your training load — note down each session, including what the workout comprised of, how you felt, and any other relevant notes. It also helps to track your recovery to improve your awareness of how your body adapts and responds to increased training loads.

You should also familiarise yourself with the symptoms of overtraining and burnout — the sooner you recognise these, the easier it is to dial back your training, prioritising recovery and preventing a more serious risk of burnout and physical injury.

Symptoms of overtraining and burnout may include [8,5]:

  • A loss of appetite
  • Muscle soreness & muscle twitches
  • A decrease in motivation and focus during training
  • Frustration over a lack of results
  • Increased stress
  • Mood disturbances
  • A lack of control
  • You find yourself getting sick easier (e.g., colds, sniffles, and coughs)

3) Prioritise getting quality sleep

You likely already know the importance of a good night’s rest, especially if you exercise regularly or compete at a high level — sleep is essential to recovery. 

Increased training loads, whether that means increasing your weekly mileage, adding more intensity, or adding an extra weights session, increase your risk of fatigue, injury, and overtraining.

But more importantly, an increased training load combined with inadequate rest (including sleep) could serve as a risk factor and an indicator of over-reaching and overtraining syndrome [7]. 

And for those unaware, overtraining syndrome is often associated with athlete burnout.

Ensure you get plenty of quality sleep to lessen the risk of over-reaching (the point before overtraining and burnout). 

4) Introduce scheduled periods of rest

Professional athletes take breaks during their season and once their competitive season is over. 

For example, Formula One drivers have a summer break midseason and a longer break before the next season begins. Road cyclists take a few weeks off in the winter before the next year of competition begins. And football players have anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks off training each year.

For elite athletes, these scheduled periods of rest are not only a time to physically recover from any niggles, pains, or injuries, but it’s also a time to mentally recover and prepare for the next season.

Competing and training at the highest level is physically, emotionally, and mentally demanding.

Even if you’re not a professional athlete, introducing your own off-season into your training can help you recover. It’s a time to switch off, mentally recharge, and assess your goals going forward. Moreover, if you train for countless hours, then it’s time to spend doing other things you enjoy — whether visiting family and friends or just sitting on the sofa catching up on the latest Netflix thriller.

You can also use periodisation in your training — add 1 week of less intense training every 1 to 3 months to reduce your risk of burnout.  

5) Use Rewire to reduce stress and lessen your risk of burnout

The relationship between stress and burnout has been studied extensively — some research [1] suggests stress causes burnout, and other work [2] proposes the opposite: stress is a burnout symptom. 

Nevertheless, we all experience stress — whether you’re a professional athlete, you run marathons, you participate in ultra-endurance cycling events, or perhaps you enjoy a parkrun on the weekends.

But I’m sure we can all agree that reducing stress is not a bad thing…

You can start using the Rewire Fitness app today for free to help reduce stress, improve your mental fitness, and reduce your risk of burnout.

FAQs

What causes athlete burnout?

There are many possible causes, but minimising stress, prioritising rest, and keeping training fun are great ways to reduce the risk. 

How do athletes recover from burnout?

Rest is key to recovering from athlete burnout. Athletes often need time away from their sport to rejuvenate and recover.

How to prevent burnout?

Keep training fun, monitor your training load, prioritise quality sleep, use periodisation in your training, and use the Rewire app to prevent athlete burnout.


References:

ACSM_CMS. 2022. News Detail. [online] Available at: <https://www.acsm.org/news-detail/2021/08/09/the-american-college-of-sports-medicine-statement-on-mental-health-challenges-for-athletes#:~:text=Professional%20and%20elite%20athletes%20also,%2C%20depression%20and%2For%20anxiety> [Accessed 20 December 2022].

Coakley, J., 1992. Burnout among adolescent athletes: A personal failure or social problem?. Sociology of sport journal, 9(3), pp.271-285.

Eklund, R.C. and DeFreese, J.D., 2015. Athlete burnout: What we know, what we could know, and how we can find out more. International Journal of Applied Sports Sciences, 27(2), pp.63-75.

Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek). 

Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G. and Hassmén, P., 2011. Athlete burnout: An integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), pp.3-24.

https://memberdesq.sportstg.com/assets/console/customitem/attachments/burnout-rrichards.pdf 

Lastella, M., Vincent, G.E., Duffield, R., Roach, G.D., Halson, S.L., Heales, L.J. and Sargent, C., 2018. Can sleep be used as an indicator of overreaching and overtraining in athletes?. Frontiers in physiology, p.436.

Winsley, R. and Matos, N., 2011. Overtraining and elite young athletes. The elite young athlete, 56, pp.97-105.

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How to Master Your Circadian Rhythm for High Performance with Phil Learney, Human Performance Specialist and Coach

Join us in our conversation with Phil Learney, an experienced coach with more than 20 years of experience coaching celebrities, elite athletes, and the general population. He is also the co-founder of the Human Performance Brand HMN24.⁠

In this episode, Phil Learney discusses how we can optimize our sleep for improved performance by understanding our circadian rhythms. We examine the impact that routines, environment, and habits can have on our sleep and explore the effects of various factors, including circadian rhythms, light exposure, jetlag, alcohol, and caffeine. 


Take advantage of Rewire’s Sleep Better collection on our free app to optimize your sleep quality today. In this collection, you’ll find a variety of active and passive sessions that utilize scientifically proven binaural beats and breathing techniques to help you get a better night’s sleep, prepare for bedtime, or overcome a bad night’s sleep.

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Fitness Your Way: A Sustainable Training Plan

Matthew Mace, an avid cyclist and runner, recently published an article on athlete burnout, what it is, and how to prevent it. Matthew defined burnout as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. His recommended intervention examples (including visualisation and positive self-talk) are helpful ways of preventing burnout.

Like Sun Sachs and Ed Gibbins said in their podcast on sustainable training routines, the most powerful thing you can do is to be consistent. This means:

Finding movement that you enjoy and seeking out an inclusive space

Physical exercise has numerous scientifically-proven health benefits such as the prevention of numerous chronic diseases, improvement of brain health, and strengthen your bones and muscles. But none of these are worth anything if you don’t enjoy the movement you are doing. Find what works for you, fitness your way, and stick with it.

The importance of a supportive community that encourages you to push past your perceived limits and reminds you to rest when your mind and body needs is immeasurable.

Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

Being brave does not mean you are not scared of something, it means you do it regardless of the fear. Remember, the more often you do something, the easier it becomes!

Neuro-Training is a great way to help you improve focus and mental performance. Check out our article on everything you need to know about neuro-training here or try a 3-minute beginner neuro-training session here.

A good warm-up and cool-down routine is non-negotiable

It has been recommended that a warm-up should be at least 10 minutes and include a range of mobility work. According to the latest science, “an effective warm-up can expand your blood vessels, warranting greater oxygen supply to muscles”.

Just as important is an effective cool-down routine after your workout because it is “essential for the body’s recovery process”.

Benefits of a good warm-up and cool-down includes:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • Improved physical performance
  • Increased mental fitness
  • Less stress

Did you know that Rewire users are 71% less stressed after consistently using the app? Give our Focus Guided Recovery Session a try.

Rest and recover

Rest and recovery includes three main aspects:

  1. Quality sleep: optimise your sleep for recovery and reach your ultimate performance.
  2. Enough time between workouts to give your body the time it needs to recover.
  3. The correct fuel: eat to support the physical activity you are doing. For some great ideas, check out our article on foods to fight fatigue.

Not sure where to start? Why not give Rewire a shot – our supportive community, innovative app, and scientifically-proven protocols might be just what you need to stay consistent and crush your training goals!

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Sources:

Ruegsegger, G. N., & Booth, F. W. (2018). Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harbor perspectives in medicine8(7), a029694. https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a029694

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Benefits of physical activity. [online] CDC. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm.‌

CrankIt Fitness. (2016). The latest Science on warming up and cooling down. [online] Available at: https://www.crankitfitness.com/the-latest-science-on-warming-up-and-cooling-down/ [Accessed 26 Jun. 2022].

American Heart Association (2014). Warm Up, Cool Down. [online] www.heart.org. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/warm-up-cool-down.‌‌‌

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