July 27, 2023 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Steps to lead to better mental health for ADs

The issue of mental health involving student-athletes has been at the forefront in the past few years, and rightfully so. Steps to educate and help young people are essential, and incorporating proactive initiatives is imperative. In light of long stressful, hectic days with hundreds of tasks and responsibilities, however, it would be wise for athletic administrators to also consider their mental health, and to take definitive, concrete steps to enhance and protect it.

Athletic administrators often have to set and maintain standards, solve problems, and make vital decisions. Not everyone associated with the athletic program – and this can include parents, teachers, administrators, and school board members – may understand or appreciate your efforts, and as a result, you may face unrealistic expectations, pressure, and stress. Understandably, these factors can lead to the erosion of your mental health. It is important to understand this phenomenon and to develop a game plan to deal with it.

mental healthIf you were able to use the summer to reconnect with your family and refresh a little, this is a good place to start your proactive efforts to maintain your mental health. But as practice sessions begin and the fall season looms, what can you do to sustain a positive, constructive, and sane approach to relate to individuals and handle your responsibilities throughout the year? You might consider and try some of the following.

  • Find a way to incorporate the big three elements every day – nutritious food, sleep, and exercise. It may take a little creativity to accomplish these objectives, but they are essential to operate at an optimal level and deal with stress.
  • Develop simple, easy-to-use techniques for stress relief. These might include meditation, walking, or simply turning off the lights in your office, and closing your eyes for a few minutes as a calming agent. In practical terms, you do have to check the condition of your fields in the fall and spring. This time walking and being outdoors can work wonders. Even if there has been no rain, go check the fields.
  • Avoid the temptation to work a little longer in the evening or to come in early. Yes, for a one-time emergency, you may have to do this. But doing this consistently will further wear you down to the point that you can’t recover. Close the door to your office, go home, find something healthy to eat, and get enough sleep. Organize and plan your day to be as efficient as possible, but don’t over-extend.
  • Take a mental health day when needed. This approach has been around and used by teachers for at least fifty years or more. As an athletic administrator, it may take a little thought and planning before simply calling in sick. You need to be in school for revenue-producing games, important meetings, and major events. If there is a day or two in the schedule that is a little light or the week or ten days between seasons, these situations may represent a reasonable opportunity to use one or two of these days to relieve some of the stress and pressure.
  • Learn to say ‘no.’ While most athletic administrators want to help and serve others, the demands upon your time and emotions can become overwhelming. Try the approach of … “I am sorry that I can’t help right at this moment, because I have too many pressing issues to deal with. Please get back to me in a day or two, and I would be glad to help.” This may irritate some, but it is essential so that you do not become overwhelmed to the point at which you can’t recover.
  • Delegate whenever possible. If you can get coverage for a game during the week, this will allow you to have dinner and time with your family, and not feel that you have shortchanged them. To do this, particularly if you don’t have an assistant, you may have to be creative, get approval, and set aside some money to pay an out-of-season coach to handle your game management responsibilities.
  • Establish Sunday as your family day, and do not allow for any interruptions. To do this, set definitive limits and boundaries, and extend them as far and as realistically as you possibly can. Then, you have to clearly explain your expectations to your coaches, parents, and fellow administrators. For example, point out that you will not accept phone calls and you will respond to email messages when you return to your office on Monday, but that you are not ‘on call’ at all hours on Sunday. If there is an emergency, you may have to handle it. Most situations will not, however, qualify as an emergency.
  • Embrace humor and take time to laugh, because it is a great form of medicine. Put a funny comic, photo, or saying on your phone, computer, or your office bulletin board. Use anything that will elicit a good laugh, and utilize these prompts or objects to lessen frustration and stress.
  • Identify and surround yourself, as much as possible, with good, positive people. When you need to vent or explore options, these optimistic individuals will be able to serve as a great support network. Of course, you also need to reciprocate when they might need help or a boost.
  • Periodically reflect as to why you got into the profession, and consider the value that education-based athletics provides. It is always good to remember that you make a difference, and have an enormous impact upon young people and often also upon coaches.
  • Start each day with a ‘clean slate.’ While you may still have to find a solution to a pressing problem, don’t let the previous day’s frustrations and headaches pose an immediate hurdle. Maintaining quiet confidence in that “We can do it” puts you in a better frame of mind to tackle another day. When things begin to pile up over several days, the stress level can become unmanageable.
  • Seek professional help if your level of frustration or stress progresses to a point at which it causes acute anxiety or depression. Your school nurse or athletic trainer may be able to provide you with a lead or connection for the appropriate medical professional who can help. While you are charged with looking after the mental health of others, you also have to take charge of your own.

Hopefully, these suggestions will provide a few possible approaches that you might use to your advantage. Because to help others, you first have to take care of your mental health.