Stressed Out? You Are Not Alone

By Dr. Bob Pearson

Surprise, college swimming coaches are stressed!  Many of you took the time to respond to a survey request as part of a research study to investigate issues that may contribute to high stress levels among intercollegiate head swimming coaches. The Coaching Issues Survey, a tool to measure specific, potential stressors experienced by intercollegiate athletic coaches was used to collect data.  The tool provided a total score of potential stress and specific scores from four subscales: 1) Win-Loss, 2) Time-Role e.g. work-life balance and issues related to completing job requirements, 3) Program-Success, e.g. items critical to success such as facility availability, budget, and recruiting, and 4) Athlete-Concerns, e.g. interactions with athletes.  Data were analyzed for the variables of a coach’s competitive division, age, years of total coaching experience, years of head coaching experience, and gender.

While age of a coach, years of coaching experience, and years of head coaching experience were not found to be significant contributors to stress, data did reveal several key findings.  The first was that subscales for Time-Role and Program-Success were significant stressors for intercollegiate head swimming coaches.  Perhaps, not surprisingly, coaches have difficulty with work-life balance issues and successfully completing all required job duties as identified within the Time-Role subscale. Coaches also struggle with items like facility availability, team budgets, recruiting, and other related items identified in the Program-Success subscale.  Winning and losing and interacting with athletes were not found to be significant stressors.

Another key finding was that there was no difference in stress experienced by coaches whether they worked at the Division I, II, and III level. It has long been assumed by many that coaching an NCAA Division I program was the most stressful.  Yet when reviewing results of the study no significant difference in experienced stress based on competitive division was indicated. The greater emphasis placed on athletics in all divisions appears to create stress that is equal for coaches in each of the three divisions, rather than only larger institutions.

On the gender issue, female coaches reported experiencing more stress than their male colleagues.  Results of the CIS survey indicated females experienced significantly greater stress than males in the Time-Role, Program-Success, and Win-Loss subscales.  Only in the area of Athlete Concerns were females on par with their male counterparts. This is an important finding, particularly when such a small percentage of head coaches are women. 

The advent of support groups, work and home stratagems, and sharing best practices may be ways to help all coaches mitigate stress and stay in the work force longer.  Because there was no difference in stress experienced by competitive division, promoting greater cooperation and sharing of ideas may be one way to help alleviate stress.

It is believed this was the first research study to investigate stress and stressors in the population of intercollegiate head swimming coaches.  If you wish to read a complete version of the study, it is available at: