The inaugural #lookafteryourcoach advocacy campaign was initiated and resourced by M5 Management in response to regular observation of poor or compromised mental health in sporting coaches, combined with feedback from the sports industry and further research.

The #lookafteryourcoach campaign was initiated on the premise that support of the mental health of coaches/community leaders will enable sport, athlete wellbeing and physical activity levels to thrive in alignment with the Sport 2030 National Sport Plan. Coaches will also be better trained to provide mental health support to athletes.

Key Observations 

Observations from the campaign and coach feedback workshop includes:

  1. The incidence of poor coach mental health is an issue across Australian sport with the full extent unknown.
  2. Some sports may be prone to greater levels of poor coach mental health than others.
  3. Gender issues are yet to be fully examined, statistically there are few women in head coach roles, serving in lower tiers of coaching. Alternatively, in some cases, women (in non-coaching roles) are supporting their male partner's low coaching salaries with their higher paying roles.
  4. Working with parents appears to be a major stress for coaches, with no clear boundaries on what is acceptable interaction and behaviour with coaches.
  5. Some coaching environments have a low emphasis on coach mental health and support, for example many coaches feel uncomfortable about taking holidays as athlete training continuity may be interrupted and parents may move their children to other coaching staff.
  6. Examination of the media treatment of coaches and sporting administrators in Australia as solely responsible for team performance and the opening of forums for public debate, comment and criticism.
  7. There are limited mainstream support resources for coaches available. Suggestions included:

- development of a national mental health support coach resource portal ensuring equity of access from volunteer to elite level

- introduction of new initiatives such as: adding mental health education to official accreditation across sports nationally to ensure coaches receive mental health information as they build their skill set, education of employers to ensure supporting coach environments, national sporting code of conduct around interaction with coaches by parents and supporters, direct support for coaches mentoring, email support service, community of practice to share ideas and experiences across sports, reduced costs for coaching accreditation to encourage coaches to seek qualification (and receive mental health awareness training).

Beginnings - 2018

Mental health management is a vitally important part of M5's day to day work, and athletes and staff are now accustomed to being asked "How's your mental health?" or "Where's your head at today?" In the course of our day to day operations we regularly see athletes, coaches and support staff suffering from poor mental health and in some cases, burnout. In 2018 we started talking regularly to our wide network about levels of coach wellbeing and the feedback reflected a common theme. "Yes, it is a serious issue that needs attention and we love the concept of caring for coaches". We researched further and found a large amount of international and Australian research on the subject.   

The campaign is simple, in order to put the mental health of coaches across Australia on the agenda, M5 is asking the sporting community to acknowledge one of the most important roles in sport and the wider community the role of coach. It is one of the hardest jobs going they are often taken for granted and the first to take any blame for a team's actions or poor performance (regardless of whether they are paid or volunteers). It is often overlooked that sport at any level cannot exist without a coach.

Coaches are expected to juggle many skills ranging from psychologist, mentor, strength and performance, nutrition, chauffeur and race admin to name a few. Adding to this, many coaches do not have an exit strategy for life after coaching, which may end abruptly when contracts are terminated or not renewed.

At professional level, coaches ride the highs and lows with their athletes, work long anti-social hours, put off exercising, eat poorly and often travel for long periods away from their family and friends. They rarely have the luxury of switching off; as when they are not coaching, they are planning, analysing, and consulting.

The important thing is for coaches (and the people around them) to recognise the warning signs of burnout and take self-care action early. Watchouts include mental and physical fatigue, putting off tasks, feeling discouraged and losing passion for their sport. Coaches can feel very isolated, but there is support available through talking with trusted friends and family, their club, sporting federation, coaching association and support organisations such as RU OK?, Lifeline, and Beyond Blue.

Cotton Tree Head Coach, Janelle Pallister
Redlands Swim Coach, Nicholas Pedrazzini

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