The Truth Behind Athlete Burnout
Imagine being stuck in this loop: constant training, yet you’re seeing no improvements. Your coaches are frustrated, you’re frustrated, and you’re falling behind the rest of your teammates. You don’t know what more you can do- hard work will always make you better, right? Well, that doesn’t seem to be effective. What once was your stress reliever now clogs your mind, and you feel as if you’re dragging yourself to practice more than anything.
Hey, even your favorite sports can get exhausting sometimes. Especially as you become more involved and allot more time out of your day to improve in these activities, things can get repetitive and even draining! Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone! Many athletes experience difficult phases throughout their careers where they are simply worn out and ‘over’ their sport, otherwise known as burnout.
What is athlete burnout?
Burnout is a response to the continual stress that comes with training in a sport or activity that doesn’t really provide any time to mentally and physically recover. Many athletes are stuck with the thought that the more they do, the better, when really, overcommitting can be harmful to their performance in the long run and overall love for the sport. It does not necessarily have to come from overtraining, which could definitely lead to or be a result of burnouts, but the two are, as a whole, different issues.
How do athletes “burn out”?
A combination of physical and mental stress, maybe from the pressures of the sport or the constant competition.
Lack of motivation- perhaps you’re not improving or performing as well as others and feel as nothing you do will work.
Experiencing staleness in your sport- doing the same things over and over again can get overwhelming and can decrease your enjoyment.
Burnouts are common, but it isn’t healthy to ignore them. Doing this can cause a downward spiral into much more severe mental and physical health issues.
Does burnout differ from depression?
It can sometimes be challenging to differentiate between the two. Burnout and depression share many similar symptoms, such as:
Emotional and physical exhaustion
Inability to concentrate properly
Forgetfulness and cognitive abilities overall
Change in sleep cycle, inconsistency
Reduction in performances
Whether you’re experiencing burnout or suffering from depression determines the type of treatment necessary. So how do you tell the difference?
Burnout is often specifically work-related, where conditions can usually be adjusted to solve the issue.
Depression tends to be more general in the sense that it can be related to anything, depending on the person and situation.
Burnout can be a factor that leads to depression, but by itself, it is usually temporary.
Athletes that experience burnouts don’t usually need to seek medical advice and help. If you’re experiencing some of these symptoms for prolonged periods, make sure to speak with a doctor or trusted adult that can help you.
How to prevent athlete burnout:
Every person differs when it comes to their health and how to cope with stress. While most athletes will experience burnout at least a few times in their sports journey, there are ways to prevent it or ensure that it won’t become more serious:
Periods of rest and recovery
Take some time off your activity and focus on yourself! It may seem like you’re not training enough and that you’re going to fall behind. However, recovery actually allows you to adapt to the training cycle and recharge your body and mind. Resting will ultimately benefit your performance, rather than pushing through your slumps all the time.
Take other opportunities, change your environment! Don’t miss out on other aspects of your life, including hanging out with friends, and getting involved with school clubs. That way, you’re experiencing different things and finding out about new interests!
It isn’t always necessary to completely take time off or change locations; variations in training or lightening the load can also help with burnout, depending on the level. Just changing your routine can freshen things up and provide new motivation!
Having a positive environment where you’re motivating yourself and others can make everything more fun and enjoyable. Being able to input and voice your opinions can also increase your participation and dedication.
Note: Coaches and trainers need to keep this in mind and educate themselves on burnout to ensure their athletes’ well-being. They should consider modifications (in time, length, intensity, etc.) and monitor conditions throughout practice and games. Letting athletes have a say in what they do would also make them more involved. If coaches gave proper breaks or encouraged athletes to focus on mental health, it would make them feel much better about needing time to themselves!
Burnout needs to be discussed more because it can quickly turn into something very detrimental if ignored. Early retirement and serious injuries could cut your sports career short if you don’t acknowledge your physical and mental state. Make sure to listen to yourself and understand that it’s okay to step away for a bit! Just know that in the end, it’s going to make you a better athlete, and a happier one! To excel at what you do, it’s crucial that you love it.
"Athlete Burnout." Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, www.luriechildrens.org/en/specialties-conditions/athlete-burnout/#:~:text=What%20Causes%20Athlete%20Burnout%3F,increase%20their%20level%20of%20training.&text=Overtraining%20syndrome%20happens%20when%20an,adequately%20from%20training%20and%20competition.
"How to Avoid Athlete Burnout in Youth Sports." TrueSport, learn.truesport.org/avoid-athlete-burnout-youth-sports/.
"Is It Burnout or Is It Depression?" El Camino Health, www.elcaminohealth.org/stay-healthy/blog/it-burnout-or-it-depression.
Sitzler, Beth. "Burnout in Athletes." NATA: National Athletic Trainers' Association, www.nata.org/blog/beth-sitzler/burnout-athletes.
Valle, Carl. "How to Prevent Athlete Burnout." SimpliFaster, simplifaster.com/articles/prevent-athlete-burnout/.