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How to Address Finding a Balanced Lifestyle in the Athletic Setting: A Perspective for the Strength and Conditioning Coach

Mazerolle, Stephanie M PhD, ATC; Pitney, William A EdD, ATC

Section Editor(s): Kraemer, William J PhD, CSCS, FNSCA

Strength and Conditioning Journal: April 2011 - Volume 33 - Issue 2 - p 43-45
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e3182165dba


1Department of Kinesiology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut; and 2Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois

Stephanie M. Mazerolleis an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut and serves as the undergraduate program director.

William A. Pitneyis an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the Northern Illinois University.

Working professionals, at some point during their careers, will experience challenges associated with balancing both their professional and their personal obligations. This conflict has been termed “work-life balance” and has been reported as prevalent among those professionals working in the sport or athletic setting, especially coaches (2,3) and athletic trainers (1,4,6-9,11). Although no formal data exist, strength and conditioning coaches endure similar working conditions as those of an athletic trainer; therefore, many comparisons can be drawn from the existing literature. Most often, long work hours, unorthodox hours, and the demands of the job facilitate issues with life balancing (7). Continued experiences with life-balancing issues can lead to increased stress, burnout, job dissatisfaction, and retention issues (4,8,10); therefore, it is important for both supervisors and strength coaches to be proactive to address these issues to avoid the negative outcomes. The purpose of this column is to provide some practical suggestions to the strength and conditioning specialist to enhance his/her overall quality of life through promoting a better life balance.

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Job sharing is an alternative work-scheduling option that is used by many corporations, which has 2 individuals share the same job responsibilities, fulfilling them by each working a different portion of the week. The emergence of job sharing is a reflection of today's working professionals' need for flexibility in work schedules as a means for them to address not only their professional responsibilities but also their family and personal obligations (1).

Job sharing and flextime are formal agreements between the employer and employee, and this time is not regulated by the U.S. Department of Labor; therefore, there is a degree of creativity afforded by both parties. The traditional notion of both workplace alternatives to work scheduling may not be appropriate for the collegiate setting, but the core concepts can be applied to help create more continuity and flexibility with scheduling. Job sharing really is teamwork among colleagues with a shared job description or work agenda; therefore, in cases where a strength coach may need a morning off to go to the doctor with a sick child or get the oil changed in his/her car, a fellow strength coach could cover a morning training session. This concept of “job sharing” or teamwork has been an effective tool implemented by many athletic trainers working in the collegiate setting (5) as a means to create flexibility and control over work schedules.

Another plausible option is allowing the strength coach to help create the work schedule or at least feel as though his/her input is heard when creating lifting schedules or staff meetings. This strategy has been effective not only with athletic trainers working in the collegiate setting but also with those working in the corporate setting, including IBM and DuPont (12). Scriber and Alderman (11) and Mazerolle et al. (5) suggest the idea of a “gliding schedule” for morning treatment sessions, in which each member of the staff is able to have a morning off to attend to personal obligations and interests. This selected day off is negotiated with the head athletic trainer to best fit the needs of the staff member.

Communication among staff members and supervisors has been found as an effective strategy to reduce role strain (10), a component that can greatly influence life balancing and therefore should be advocated by both the strength coach and his/her supervisor. Those individuals working in the athletic setting, particularly the professional and collegiate settings, do not have the luxury of a 9-to-5 workday or even the ability to implement what is considered a flexible work schedule or job sharing to create flexibility; however, by being creative and applying the basic premise of these policies, the strength coach can arrive at some degree of flexibility.

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Time management is one of the most commonly recommended practices to reduce stress. Within this umbrella term of time management falls establishing professional and personal priorities and boundaries. In a recent investigation, Mazerolle et al. (5,6) found that athletic trainers working in the Division 1 level were able to sustain a level of life balance by instituting daily priorities. The priorities included time for exercise, administrative duties, and fulfillment of workplace responsibilities. So, at the beginning of each workday, write your “to-do list,” being sure to rank those items of high importance first. Consider using the ABCD method for prioritization of your daily to-do list (A = must be done today, B = important but are not as important as the A's, with a deadline of completion in the near future, C = valuable but no timetable and can wait, and D = not worth the time at the current moment with a timetable of months). Do not, however, forget to prioritize some personal time, including social time or leisure activities.

Another aspect of time management is avoiding role overload, which can be done by saying “no” to additional workplace responsibilities, delegating responsibility, or evading over extending/committing yourself to additional responsibilities or obligations, both personally and professionally. The concept of saying “no” is very popular among those concerned with promoting life balancing for the working professional. Moreover, taking advantage of these strategies of prioritization can feel empowering and can provide the working professional with more control over his/her personal and professional responsibilities and schedules, a key to fulfillment of work and life balance. By prioritizing and organizing your responsibilities, you will be able to reduce the stress that is related to meeting those obligations and help you achieve a more balanced lifestyle.

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At the core, the theory of integration is quite simple: work and family life are not viewed as interdependent elements but rather as necessary intertwining segments of a person's life. Organizations recognizing that the working professional not only has paid work responsibilities, but also personal interests and domestic care concerns to address-which have been shown to influence the productivity level of their employees-have begun to institute policies that afford the employee the opportunity to find life balance. Flextime, as previously discussed, is the most common workplace option for employees looking to balance their work and home life responsibilities (1).

Although an appealing workplace alternative, integration is not always feasible for someone working in the athletic setting, like the strength and conditioning coach or athletic trainer. Like the athletic trainer, there are periods of downtime during the day that can be used as “me” time to attend to personal interests, such as exercise or domestic care items such as laundry, getting the oil changed, or grocery shopping. Mazerolle et al. (5,6) found this notion of integration through the use of downtime as an effective means to promote life balancing for the athletic trainer. Supervisors should strongly consider this concept of integration because it has found to significantly decrease absenteeism and turnover and promote a more rejuvenated individual (10), who is more committed to his/her profession. So the next time you find yourself with an hour of free time during the day, remember your to-do list and take time away from your role as a strength and conditioning coach.

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Life-balancing issues will continue to be a common impediment faced by many employed within the athletic culture. Strength and conditioning coaches can take an active role in reducing the number of challenges faced by implementing the aforementioned strategies. Remember to take time for yourself and get away from the daily stresses associated with your role. Be sure to prioritize both work obligations and personal interests and to support and encourage a cohesive, team-like atmosphere as a means to find a balance. Relying on social support networks and practicing healthy eating, sleeping, and exercise habits are also effective strategies to address life-balancing issues. Regardless, strength and conditioning coaches are encouraged to be creative when selecting what strategy is most appropriate for them and to reflect on their life goals. There are, of course, other workplace and life complexities that a strength and conditioning coach may experience, as does the athletic trainer; however, we have tried to address one of the more common hurdles: finding a balance between professional responsibilities and personal and domestic interests and needs.

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© 2011 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association