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A simple guide to improve the health of coaches

By Joe Eisenmann, PhD

 

Coaches – First, thanks for taking the time to step away from the practice field, gym, weight room, film room, telephone, meeting room, or laptop to read this blog. We spend so much time and energy preparing our athletes and team for the demands of competition that sometimes we fail to take care of ourselves.

Here are some considerations to improve personal health and wellness, and in turn, impact productivity, coaching effectiveness and quality of life.

 

The Essentials

Let’s start with the end in mind – literally! The end = death. A morbid thought but if you are my age (48), you start doing the arithmetic. Life expectancy in the United States is 81.2 years for females and 76.4 years for males. Sports is often seen as the pinnacle of fitness. However, just because you coach does not automatically qualify you for good health and a long life.

Here’s your checklist to a healthy lifestyle:

  • Nutrition – eating the right kinds of food, in the right amounts and at that right time
  • Physical activity – move!
  • Sleep – 7-9 hours per night
  • Stress reduction and relaxation – find ways to relieve stress, unplug and recharge
  • Positive social relationships – this is the number 1 determinant of happiness and a good life. Check out this Ted Talk
Time for a check-up?

Our athletes get a physical every year. You may also test their strength (squat, bench press), vertical jump, and conditioning level throughout the year.  But, when was the last time you had a medical check-up? What’s your BMI, body composition or waist circumference? How about your cholesterol or blood pressure?  What’s your risk of developing the leading cause of death in the U.S. – cardiovascular disease? You can check out your Cardiovascular Disease Risk Score here (known as the Framingham Risk Score).

And beyond a routine medical check-up, could you pass the adult version of the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge? In terms of physical fitness, aerobic or cardiovascular fitness gets a lot of attention. Indeed, low aerobic fitness is associated with 2-to-5 times risk of cardiovascular disease or all-cause mortality. However, physical fitness is not an either/or – that is, aerobic fitness or strength. Both are important as are the other dimensions of physical fitness (body composition, bone health, flexibility, etc.). Just like you want multi-faceted athletes, your health-related fitness is the same.

Try these two self-administered fitness tests: the 1-mile walk/run and push-ups.

Sitting is the new smoking

One does not need to put on the gym shorts and go for a 30 minute jog to reap the benefits of physical activity. Research shows that the accumulation of shorter bouts of even walking are beneficial for health. More recently, attention has been drawn to reducing sedentary time and the importance of taking periodic breaks from sitting.  Besides the cardiovascular and metabolic benefits, getting up out of your chair and taking a 5-10 min walk can help brain function as well. So, get away from the computer and writing practice plans or reviewing game film and take an activity break. Walk around the block and do 10 push-ups. Your ideas may crystallize during the walk. Better yet – how about a walking meeting with your assistant coach! Research has shown walking meetings to be more productive.

P.S. And if you smoke, quit! Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. causing more than 480,000 deaths each year. This is nearly one in five deaths.

 

Find time for R&R

Rest & relaxation should be scheduled daily, weekly & periodically.  Just as athletes need a good night’s sleep and rest between sets and drills during practice or training sessions and throughout a weekly and yearly training cycle, coaches also benefit physically & mentally from the daily and weekly grind. There are many ways to reduce stress and recharge and these are often highly individualized.  For some, it’s an evening walk with the dog.  For others, it’s meditation, reading a book or watching a favorite sitcom. No matter what activity you choose to get away from the daily stresses and demands of coaching and life, find one and practice it daily.  In addition, schedule a transition period or “dead week” – aka vacation – where you just get away from the entirety of the daily grind.

Well-being and Quality of Life

Well-being, like athletic performance, isn’t just physical. Well-being also has to do with your mental health, your job and community, your spirituality and definitely your friends. In my opinion, the single most important variable in life is Quality of Life. I will often lead a conversation with good friends by asking “On a scale of 1-10, what’s your Quality of Life?”

Quality of Life is defined as “the standard of health, comfort, and happiness experienced by an individual or group” and is comprised of several domains and many more sub-factors. It includes everything from physical health, friends and family, education, job, safety, freedom, religious beliefs, finance and the environment.  There are 24 hours in a day – 168 hrs in a week – 365 days per year. How and with you do you spend your time?

Year-round and Lifelong!

As coaches, we put together our yearly plans.  It starts in the off-season building to the pre-season and finally culminates during the competitive season.  Living a healthy lifestyle also needs to be a year-round thing.  Off-season | Pre-season | In-season = Life. And one sports season after another equals a career. Living a healthy lifestyle alongside your athletes can equal a long, happy, productive, and satisfying life.

Summary

Basically, the coach should practice (and role model) some of the same principles that he/she preaches to the athletes in accordance with the daily demands of the job and life!

  • Prepare your body physically – strength training plus conditioning that impacts all dimensions of ‘athleticism’ and physical fitness.
  • Eat a prudent diet– stay away from junk food and shop the perimeter of the grocery store.
  • Get a good night’s sleep (7-9 hours).
  • Get a yearly medical exam and test and maintain a good fitness level.
  • Move your body and take breaks from sedentary periods.
  • Manage stress.
  • Take an “off-day” during the week for recovery and plan transition (inactive or unload) periods away from your work throughout the year.

Note: This blog was based on some of my #WellnessWednesday tweets

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