The stresses around maintaining a healthy work-life balance are huge for people in all walks of life. However, the challenge of achieving work-life balance is particularly challenging for sports coaches when “normal” working hours are by necessity outside of the hours most people work. That makes it hard for coaches to spend quality time with their family and friends.
We interviewed Mark Tennant, Director of i2c about his own experience personally achieving a work-life balance and mentoring coaches to help them.
Interview with Mark Tennant: Achieving Work-Life Balance as a Tennis Coach
Tennis(24/7): Hi Mark! I think it would be really useful to dive right in and ask – how well do you think you’ve achieved a work-life balance?
Mark: Oh sure! Do as I say not as I do! I think that as I’ve got older and as I’ve got more experience, I’ve become much more aware of work-life balance.
My own divorce, although that was nothing to do with tennis and nothing directly to do with work, I think, has made me realize that you have to keep a very close eye on relationships, especially keeping in mind that it’s not just a job, coaching and tennis is almost like a vocation. We’re in it because we love it and we always talk about how fortunate we are to do what we do rather having a “proper” job.
I think the danger is that we’re off guard a little bit too often because we love what we do. I suppose that I’ve been very mindful to try and step back from that over the last couple of years – to try and build in more time for myself. I’ve never had a problem saying no, but I’ve had to remind myself that it’s all right and important to say no, to find time for myself. The fact that I’m divorced means that I have to build in more time for my son as well because I have him four nights a week.
As I’ve got older and more experienced, I think I’ve taken more note of work-life balance – some of it through circumstances and some of it through a bit of a change of mindset.
Certainly, in my 20s and 30s, to be honest, work and life merged into one. My social life was at work and my work was in my social life and my family and it all merged into one. I’ve become more aware of the fact that it’s got to be a little bit more compartmentalized as I’ve got older.
Tennis(24/7): When you were younger, were the demands worse, trying to set yourself up?
Mark: Yes. I think they were, but I wouldn’t say that the demands were necessarily external demands. A lot of them, I think, were internal demands. In other words, there were several demands I was putting on myself. I was trying to prove myself as a person, prove myself as a couch, prove myself in terms of getting a very young business off the ground. We’ve been going 10 years with inspire2 coach and in the early years, we had to prove ourselves. While that’s still the case to an extent today, we are far more established, and I think that side has changed.
It was almost internal pressure that I was putting on myself and my colleagues were putting on themselves, because it’s not just about me. A lot of us have been through similar conundrums with this. Whereas I think in the early years it was much more about trying to prove ourselves, it was external demand and probably not saying no to very many things because we wanted to take every job going, to try and build up a business, but it was also the fact that we knew that we had a lot of things that we wanted to do.
Internally, within our own minds, our own hearts, we were trying to do as much as we could to get things going. As we’ve got more established, we’ve become more selective in terms of what we take on.
We’ve got a bigger team too, so we’ve got more people to take on more responsibility. We’ve also streamlined our systems a little bit, and while there’s still an awful lot of work we can do to get more streamlined, I think we’ve become a bit more efficient in a lot of the things that we do. For a number of reasons, things possibly become a bit easier.
Tennis(24/7): You said that one of the things you’ve changed is your mindset; is there anything else that you’d say about how you reset the work-life balance?
Mark: The thing is, with coaching, if we just forget tennis for a minute, we are effectively in the leisure industry. That means that we need to be on call, available and working when a lot of other people are having their leisure time. For instance, we need to be available and working at weekends and in the evenings. That would be a typical day for a tennis coach. A typical week would be working after school probably until middle-late evening, and then working at least some, if not all of the weekends. That’s part of the challenge.
Now, as inspire2coach has got bigger, then we’ve been able to spread that work out around the team of coaches. So, while my job isn’t a nine-to-five job – it’s become more of a nine-to-five job than perhaps it was in the early stages. I’m lucky – it’s certainly more nine-to-five than most coaches.
We’ve got to be available when other people are off work because tennis is not people’s jobs, it’s their recreation time, it’s their disposable income, and their me-time. So we have to be available when other people are off. I think that’s part of the challenge.
For coaches, it’s recognizing that and perhaps within relationships, making sure that others understand that we have to be busy when others are off work. That doesn’t suit everybody with family lives, and young kids and maybe the other half who does work a nine-to-five job. It can mean that there’s not very much time spent at home at those key times. So, it becomes about finding other times during the day, perhaps in the mornings or in the afternoons. But there’s no doubt if the other half is working a normal job and the kids are at school, then that obviously creates pressures.
The truth is it doesn’t suit everybody and it’s hard.
Tennis(24/7): When looking for work-life balance, is compromise necessary?
Mark: Just leaving aside the personal element of coaches as individuals, I think we’ve got to look at the industry as a whole.
One of the problems with the industry, in general, is that the tennis coach is by and large self-employed. Every hour that they do counts, every hour pays. So, there is pressure to do more hours, because, especially with the British weather, we need to make money while the sun shines.
A lot of coaches probably feel like they have to work extra during the summer to make up for the potential loss of income in the winter. Self-employment doesn’t make things easy. I’m not saying that self-employment is a bad thing, but I think self-employment creates pressure that perhaps employment doesn’t create. I just wonder whether coaching and work-life balance would be more conducive to each other if there was more recognition of the model of employment rather than self-employment. That probably would help things. I’m pretty sure that most coaches don’t take an awful lot of annual leave, for example, and then there’s obviously issues of sick-pay and so on.
The industry and the employment models that go within the coaching industry are part of the problem. I also think that there’s probably something in the nature of a typical tennis coach. I know I’m generalizing, but tennis coaches generally are fairly creative, probably fairly gregarious people-people and probably find it difficult to say no at times, partly because of self-employment and what have you, but also the type of people that they are and the fact that they tend to love what they do. They probably find it quite difficult to say no.
But there’s a need to recognize that time away from work is also important. On a bigger scale, it’s an industry issue, but it’s also about how each individual works to make sure that they achieve the balance that they need.
Tennis(24/7): Given the nature of the industry, is there anything that coaches can personally do? Is it who they look for as employers, is it how they set up contracts?
Mark: I think there’s a lot of things. Some of it comes down to personal discipline. which I would say includes, for example, the ability to say no and the ability to ring-fence time for work, time for admin around the coaching and then time which is protected time for family time, me-time or whatever it might be – but time away from work. The ability to ring-fence and protect time is important.
Being organized as a tennis coach means that you can be more efficient. The more organized and efficient you are, then the less time is needed to spend on admin and the more time can be protected as time away from work.
I’ve seen tennis coaches who aren’t particularly organized and efficient off the court, so they find that when they’re not coaching, they are busy trying to catch up with admin and what have you.
A quite typical coaching model in the UK is to have a head coach or a lead coach who might have an assistant or a team of assistants to be taking on some of the work. Which means that the coaching program can be spread out over more people. That could well mean that the head coach or the lead coach has a few more hours freed up as protected time or it might just mean that they are doing more admin work.
I don’t think we should be under any illusion that by taking on more people, that it means you would be working less, although it might free up an evening or two a week. Some of that comes down to the model in which you work as a sole trader or whether you use assistants to take some of the workload off you.
There might also need to be a part-time administrator who does some of the work rather than it necessarily being coaching assistant. It might mean hiring somebody for a few hours a week to do the business side, to do the books, to do the finances, to do the marketing, to do the social media or the other things that coaches have to think about, which all take time. I also think that in this modern day and age, that we’re constantly surrounded by phones, and tablets and laptops and everything and we’re more accessible than we’ve ever been before.
The ability to turn your phone off, to not immediately answer calls when they come in and have “surgery” time when you are available to take calls and to return messages – I think that’s really important. I would say the same with emails and social media as well. There’s an expectation that, in this day and age, when an email is sent we expect a reply fairly quickly. However, we need to have the discipline and ability to say no and to ring-fence and protect time. That is also important.
One thing I’ve learned is that, in the end, if there’s a relationship breakdown or if you don’t find the work-life balance that you want, then that comes down to you more than anybody else.
People will always ask and people will always lean on you, but in the end, it’s yourability to organize yourself, to ring-fence and protect time, to say no and the to recognize that you want to find a balance and then to actually stick to that balance. In large part, it comes down to your ability to organize yourself and to discipline yourself.
Tennis(24/7): Is there anything else that you would add if a coach comes to you tomorrow and says, “This is a real problem for me”?
Mark: Yes. This comes down to personality type to an extent, but I believe in writing lists; I’ve always written lists. I have an app on my phone for job lists. The app helps me to set tasks and schedule reminders to get things done at certain times of the day and week. It also helps me to prioritize things. The other thing is that I know I’m a morning person. I always prioritize to get the most important things done quite often between 7:00 and 9:00 in the morning because that’s when I’m mentally fresh and when I’m at my best. It’s about recognizing what type of a person you are and how you work.
There’s something within all us, which means that we end doing the jobs that we like to do but not necessarily the jobs that we need to do. A list helps combat that, but I think you still need the discipline to do the things that actually need to be done. There’s a lot to be said for learning to prioritize properly.
Just as example, speaking to a coach a little while ago who had got a fine from the revenue office because his accounts hadn’t been submitted on time and his reason was, “Well, I don’t like doing it. I’m not very good at it, so I kept pushing it back.” That’s a really good example of where some coaches will find the time to do the things that they want to do, but not actually do the things that are needed. I’m sure there are countless examples of that that people might identify with.
So, summarising, I think prioritizing, writing lists, scheduling time to do things, knowing yourself as a person when you work best, is important, delegating if you can. Using IT to help you is important. There are lots of apps that help you plan and to schedule things. All of those things would also be things that I would suggest you look at.
Ironically, whilst a lot of us struggle to find time for ourselves, if you can find time for yourself, it actually makes you more efficient and more effective when you are working. The irony is that there are a lot of people who say, “Oh, I haven’t got time to myself, but actually, in not having time to themselves, they are actually less effective and less efficient when they are working.
I think it’s a false economy and a false investment to not find time to do whatever it is, whether it’s going to the gym or whether it’s going for a walk, a cycle ride or whatever it might be. Actually, I think that makes you more productive and more efficient when you are working. Not finding me time or protected time for yourself is a false economy.
Tennis(24/7): What does a balance look like for you?
Mark: What I’m not going to do is to start giving percentages because I think that people will hold me to that and take it literally. Everybody’s balance is different because everybody’s needs are different. It depends, for example, whether you are single, or married, or in a relationship, because then, that dictates or determines whether you need to find time to invest in that relationship and in other people. It partly depends on whether you’ve got kids because it goes without saying that you’ve got to find time for them too.
There are so many different factors, but I think the first thing, it’s a little bit like the diagram I put up on Facebook yesterday. It’s, first of all, just have a little go at compartmentalizing your life and breaking it up into the different areas. If you marked out a typical week across the seven days and all the different things, you can probably shed some things, use different colours and stuff to become aware of what’s work-time, what’s admin-time, what’s family-time, what’s me-time, whatever, then start to look and think, “Well, am I happy with that? Could I lose a little bit somewhere in order to gain a little bit somewhere else?”
I don’t really want to get into talking about how much it should be because it’s so individualized, but I think it’s recognizing that there are different aspects to work-life balance. I would start by breaking it down into the different categories or the different compartments, then looking and analyzing and just asking me on this question, “Am I happy with that?” Then going from there.
It’s interesting, speaking to another coach about this a little while ago. She was saying, “Well, I’m really aware of finding time for myself and for the kids, but the problem is, when I’m working, I’m not earning enough money. Then I feel under pressure to use more of my me-time to do more work so I can earn more money, so I can provide for the kids.” In a way, that’s a false economy as well because it suggests then that the work that she’s doing when she is busy isn’t that effective.
The next stage is to actually look at the effectiveness of what you’re doing in that time. It could be that one or two hours of me-time in a week or actually go have really, really helpful and useful in terms of clearing the mind and just doing something different away from work and make you more effective. We all waste a lot of time and it’s then putting a critical eye to how that waste is broken down and those different hours are used and trying to be more streamlined and smarter in how the time is allocated to each of those different areas of the week. That would be the advice I’d give – do a very honest appraisal and self-evaluation of a typical week and then go from there.
Tennis(24/7): Lastly, are there any words that you would say to your younger self on achieving work-life balance? Anything you wish you had done differently?
Mark: Looking back, I don’t think I’d have got to where I am now without doing what I’d done then. I think, overall, I’m pretty happy; I’m certainly not aware of any regrets.
Although my own divorce was not directly to do with work, work had an impact on it and you obviously do a lot of soul-searching and thinking, “Well, if I’d done this or that differently, would that have made any difference?” The answer is probably yes. I don’t want to go into more detail on that, but I could certainly have done things a little bit differently in certain aspects in my marriage.
It’s like coaching itself. You trust that the work that you’re doing today is going to stand you in good stead for the future, and it’s not until you get to the future that you realize whether that was well spent time or whether it’s time wasted.