By Chase McFadden//Contributor | Thursday, April 2, 2020
Coaching is a tremendous responsibility at any level, and with that responsibility comes high stress. University of California head women’s coach Teri McKeever has come to learn that she must take care of herself if she is going to help her athletes take care of themselves.
During her 27 years at the helm of the Golden Bears, McKeever has been a mentor to hundreds of young women, assisting them in reaching their goals as swimmers and helping to shape them as individuals.
McKeever refers to her philosophical approach to self-care as “filling the well.” It’s a practice in monitoring one’s personal wellness that has become a hallmark of the Cal program.
“One of the things that has been important in my life is when demand gets too much, how do I have the ability to stop and sort of refill myself?” McKeever explains of a healthy mindset. “What are the signs when my well is getting too low? It’s important to have the self-awareness to do that.”
McKeever stresses that the concept is not akin to professional help for individuals who are struggling with mental wellness. “This is more about just that general being overwhelmed, overworked,” she says, “and how do I identify it, what's causing it, and what are my tools to reverse it?
“I personally think that's something we all need to figure out so that we don't get sick and we can be there for the people we want to be there for and we can help.”
Personal experience and introspection have brought awareness to McKeever of her own tendencies when dealing with stress. Moments along the way sparked growth and continue to do so.
“I think we all have coping skills that don't work as well,” says McKeever. “Mine tends to be overeating. For some people it's drinking.
“Even though I know that I still tend to overeat sometimes when I'm stressed or overwhelmed, what I'm trying to figure out is, okay, are there better ways of dealing with it?”
The ability to recognize that one’s well needs replenishing — and understanding how to best fill it — is key to doing so effectively.
“I’m healthier when I can remind myself that it's better if I can go for a walk down by the water to enjoy a moment by myself or I can go to the movie and treat myself instead of worrying about everything that's on my desk,” McKeever explains.
Coaches will find that there are recurring periods when the level of their wells is likely to dip. “In my life there are times when it's more severe than others,” McKeever says of the weight of her job. “I feel that there are certain times of the year that are more overwhelming. Knowing that my plate is more full than normal coming into Conference and NCAAs and recruiting helps.
“It’s not freaking out,” she says of healthily navigating those periods. “It’s just remembering, I've been down here before and been able to get through it.”
General self-care practices can help coaches, as well, who as a whole tend to be a group of highly driven, task-oriented individuals who hold themselves to a lofty — at times unrealistic — standard. “Maybe I just need to go to bed a little bit earlier,” shares McKeever, “or I need to make sure that on Wednesday when we don't have practice, I don't even come into the office, I work from home.”
McKeever acknowledges that it can be challenging for a coach to grant herself permission to fill her well. “Real wellness is that ability to evaluate where you are and make appropriate choices and not feel bad about those choices,” she says, “but recognize that they are choices of self-care. If I don't come in and work in the office on Wednesday, does it make me a lazy person? No. It’s what I need.”