Summer is “Black Friday” for many youth strength and conditioning coaches. Kids are out of school, the weather is good, and parents are motivated to fill their kids’ time. During the summer, you have more of an opportunity than any other point in the year to make a difference with a large number of kids.
Of course, along with this opportunity comes 80-hour weeks, coaching, motivating, and guiding from sun up to sun down. You return home every night exhausted, vocally strained, and baked by the sun, but still excited to do it all again tomorrow. We’re lucky to be in a career we enjoy.
Regardless of our level of enjoyment, however, “summer burnout” is a real thing. Every day our physical, mental, and emotional self is tested by kids, parents, coaches, facilities, and everything else that seems to be amplified when we’re drop-dead busy. Without some basic strategies to stay at the top of our game all summer long, it’s easy to become disengaged, burned out, and merely going through the motions by the beginning of August. A burned-out coach can’t change kids’ lives. Actually, they can’t do much for their own life either.
After coaching summer camps for over 15 years, I’ve identified some of the key rituals that help re-fill the physical, mental, and emotional tank when the days are long, the sun is hot, and kids’ attention spans are short. These busy times of year (similar to combine prep for some) are “in season” for us. Consider how we would advise an athlete to maintain their performance throughout the course of a long season.
Energy drinks would probably not find their way onto the “Performance Fuel” shopping lists that we provide our athletes. For a good reason. With high demands for energy all day, caffeine becomes a “go to” for strength coaches. While caffeine isn’t inherently “bad,” it’s important to note that it isn’t actually energy. It’s a drug that blocks a neurotransmitter that tells us we’re tired. The body’s response is to put us into a temporary “fight or flight” mode. Essentially, caffeine gives us a new paint job on a broken-down truck.
A reasonable amount of caffeine (most research points to about 300mg or less per day- about two tall coffees) has very little negative impact on us. Once we start 2x and 3x’ing that, we can wreak havoc on our adrenal system. Is our physiology designed to be in fight or flight mode all day, every day? High levels of caffeine, particularly late in the afternoon or evening, can interfere with sleep. Even those who can drink caffeine late in the day and are able to fall asleep will experience unconscious disruptions in sleep quality. This, combined with a slow increase in tolerance creates a requirement for more caffeine. The cycle continues.
While committing to at least 7 hours of sleep per night is a magic energy bullet, read further for other ways, outside of bovine doses of caffeine, to ignite and manage your energy over the course of the summer.
Protein bars are a coach’s best friend when they are used in a pinch. The entirety of the summer, however, can become a pinch. A diet of synthesized protein covered in laboratory sweeteners takes its toll after a few weeks. While “sit down” meals aren’t an option for many during this time of year, consider how you would advise an athlete to eat during their busy in-season schedule.
Coaches tend to have the most time and opportunities for choice at breakfast and dinner. Resist the temptation to immediately turn to the convenience of the drive-through. Put some rigor into packing as many veggies as possible into these meals, along with quality protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Again, you’re eating to compete. During the work day, have some natural food choices available that can be eaten on the go if necessary. Nuts, fruits, and other similar choices can be used as energy a bit easier than franken-food. There is definitely room for the standard shakes and bars but try not to make them their own food group. Big mid-day meals with loads of carbohydrate and fat can drain our afternoon energy. Eat for how you want to feel.
Frustrating Parents, Kids, and Coaches
It’s a 100% guarantee you will encounter kids, parents, and coaches that test every ounce of your patience. During the summer, you will encounter these almost daily. The emotional impact is amplified due to your strains for time and energy. Indulging in anger, frustration, or verbal combat creates a huge drain on every system of the body. These negative influences can shadow the majority of positive things that happen daily.
To create some emotional armor to deal with these distractions, it’s important to realize that most of the resistance you encounter with these individuals is due to issues they have, not issues you have. They feel threatened. They want attention. They need control. Not that this makes things easier when a kid is being a distraction, a parent is questioning your methods, or a coach is bad-mouthing your program. However, putting these challenges in perspective and dealing with them as a cool-headed professional lessens the negative emotional impact. Additionally, when you are cool-headed and confident during a confrontation, it frustrates the hell out of these individuals, often forcing them to change their tune.
You win….with a smile.
Talk to your mentors
Every youth strength and conditioning coach should have a handful of mentors they feel comfortable seeking counsel from. Furthermore, it’s important that at least one of these mentors is outside of the organization you work for. These mentors and peers are critical for exchanging challenges, solutions, support and other ideas that not only boost morale, but create a better overall summer camp experience. When we’re coaching, it’s easy to feel like you’re on an island. There is an inherent sense of competition with other coaches and other organizations. While a certain level of competition is healthy, much more can be gained from collaboration. Sharing how we make ourselves and our kids better every day helps everyone grow.
Your personal “best practices”
We all know the formula for how to perform at our individual best. It could be eating a certain way, educating ourselves daily, or going to church every Sunday. While this formula is different for everyone, we know that when we hit this formula, we’re hard to stop. The problem is, when our time and energy is strained, we neglect these practices in favor of “survival mode.” Survival mode allows us to survive, not thrive. Furthermore, survival mode has a short shelf life before full shut-down occurs.
Summer and other busy times of the year require us to perform at our best. Taking a moment prior to the madness to write down the practices that supercharge our mind and body, helps us realize our summertime “non-negotiables.” While our time and energy will be strained, these things are necessary to perform and feel the way we want. Of course, we may need to create modifications, for example your normal 2-hour workout might become 30-minute maintenance workout. Either way, we identify an essential component of our success and commit to it.
Change young lives all summer long with these simple ways to fill your physical, mental, and emotional tank on a daily basis. Don’t forget to drink plenty of water, say your prayers and call mom. The world needs the best YOU.
Brett Klika is a youth performance expert and regular contributor to the IYCA. He is the creator of the SPIDERfit Kids youth training program and has run successful youth fitness programs all over the country. Brett is an international speaker whose passion for youth fitness has helped thousands of people learn how to create exceptional training experiences for young athletes.