As part of our charter to improve mental health in the sports industry, M5 has created our own campaign #lookafteryourcoach featuring Ambassador 5-time world Ironman Triathlon champion Craig Alexander, M5 athletes and our media and industry networks.
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 R U OK?, Lifeline, and Beyond Blue.