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Vulnerability In Coaching: Responsibility & Self-Compassion

Written By: Kylie Lahey

Statesman Winston Churchill delivered a speech in 1906 to the House of Commons that included some sage advice that has become a commonly shared quote: “with great power comes great responsibility.” While the phrase has been used countless times in speeches, it is important to recognize a deeper meaning when used to describe coaching responsibilities.

Coaching is a unique intersection of power and responsibility. Depending on the age of your athletes, you might serve dual roles (or occasionally be treated by parents as) second parents, childcare providers, older siblings, safety nets at college, friends, colleagues...etc.

With all of these titles, it can sometimes be hard to clarify expectations of your role. Especially during those times of the year when the most pressure, hardest training, or greatest stress is on your athletes.

The big question: as coaches, if we don’t let those “without power” learn how to handle responsibility… then how will they learn to deal with someday being in a position of power themselves?

Dr. Henry Cloud, a leading researcher and educator on the benefits of boundaries, uses a concept called the Law of Responsibility, that encapsulates the idea: You are responsible to each other, but not for each other.

As mentioned earlier, the responsibility will vary across the age groups with whom you work. But at the end of the day, being clear about your responsibilities will help you to alleviate pressure on yourself when an athlete is not performing the way you hope they will or in the ways you believe they are capable.

Think about all of your responsibilities as a coach and check in with yourself - which column do you gravitate towards? How can you adjust your perspective in your coaching to promote better boundaries and expectations of yourself? A good example of this would be - what if their training was insufficient? That is the coach’s responsibility. And being responsible for others will contribute to burnout and frustration. But being responsible to others empowers them to promote their own well being with you as a support. It is much easier to support others when you are not having to carry them.

Revisit the above statements and remember: You are responsible to your athletes to provide training to help them get to their goals and to research and collaborate in the process. It is important to remember, you are one - crucial but not sole - component of athlete training that contributes to the outcomes of their races. There’s a reason that elite athletes have multidisciplinary teams that contribute to an athlete’s efforts. You are not supposed to carry the responsibility for the outcomes alone.

When a race or meet does not go according to plan, self-compassion often comes into the picture. Being a leader and having responsibility requires vulnerability and is not for everyone. Risks have to exist for rewards to exist.

In a moment when you need self-compassion, as often as you focus on what went wrong, you need to also make space to reflect on the things that went right.

As we said earlier - with great power comes great responsibility - along with vulnerability and a need for balance, sustainability, vision, hope, humor, and confidence. Be mindful to not let fear overrule your perspective of the entire picture.

Further resources to promote self-compassion, self-care, and building your resilience as a coach:

- Brene Brown’s book Dare to Lead dives deep into the vulnerabilities involved in leadership and provides practical applications for managing the vulnerabilities and supporting other leaders that you lead.

- Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast episode with Emily and Amelia Nagoski: Burnout and How to Complete the Stress Cycle discusses burnout and stress from the physiological level to help us care for our bodies and brains during high stress.

- Buffalo’s School of Social Work has an entire website onDeveloping your Self-Careplan with self care ideas, tools to help you prepare emergency self care before you need it, and stay ahead of your stress.

Kylie Lahey, LCSW, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker native to Denver, Colorado but living in Austin, Texas. Lahey received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Secondary English Education from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2014 and her Master's of Science of Social Work degree from The University of Texas at Austin in 2019. Lahey works primarily with athletes in the Division I college setting as a provider of individual and group behavioral health and performance support services across a variety of sports. Lahey also works with coaches, athletic trainers, strength staff, and other athletics professionals to promote mental health awareness and education for supporting elite athletes both within sport and outside of sport. Lahey's additional professional background includes experience as a therapist within high school and eating disorder/behavioral health hospital settings for both adult and adolescent clients. Lahey is a former club swim coach and has an athletic background in competitive swimming, triathlon training, and vinyasa yoga instruction through the Yoga Alliance.


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