Note: I’m not talking strictly about early specialization and overuse injuries related to long training seasons with little time for recovery. I’m talking more about the psychosocial aspects related to the fatigue and exhaustion of “being done,” not having any more fuel in the tank for this sport. Athletes who experience burnout are more prone to injuries, depression, social isolation, lethargy and decreased effort toward other activities (including school), addictive behaviors, and other negative experiences.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Why do you play your sport? Is it because it’s what you’ve always done? Is it because it’s part of who you are? Do you have fun with your sport? Or is there something else you would rather be doing with your time, money, energy? Does going to practice seem more like a chore than an opportunity to get better at a game you love?
What happens when we become so immersed in our sport that it becomes our sole identity? Who do we become as individuals? Think about how you introduce yourself:
Option 1: “Hi. My name is Crystal and I’m a triathlete.”
Option 2: “Hi. My name is Crystal and I like competing in triathlons.”
There is power in words. Option 2 leaves room for us to add other pieces of our identity, such as, “I also like hiking, reading, and spending time with my family.” When we use Option 1, our sport becomes our identity- it’s who we are. This is called Athlete Identity. But what happens when we no longer play our sport? What happens if we need to take a break because of an injury? What about if we get cut and don’t make it to the next level? What if we lose interest and want to do something else for a few months? Then what?
Well, our identity as triathlete may be stripped from us, and we need to have other identifiers that make up who we are. This is where Option 2 becomes more clear.
When we become so immersed in our sport, it becomes a way of life. We eat, sleep, and breathe for our sport, but then what? That’s always the big question: Then what? Think about life in general for a moment. See the bigger picture. We need to identify and prevent athlete burnout before it happens. Then we need to have the coping skills to help those who are suffering. Consider the following:
Social: Who are our friends? Our peer groups or teammates are automatically our social circle. What about when you stop playing? Then what?
Time Management: Our days and schedules are planned around our sport practices, supplemental trainings, and our competitions. What happens when you stop playing? Then what?
Physical Training: Our workouts are planned by coaches and trainers. We physically prepare for our sport. What happens when we don’t play our sport? Do we have the skills and knowledge to be physically active and train for life? Do we know how to exercise and maintain general fitness levels without the pressure of training for competition? What happens when you stop training? Then what?
Nutrition: There is so much research and support for us on how to eat for performance and recovery. But are we prepared to eat smart for general health and to maintain necessary calories so that we don’t gain excess weight now that we aren’t physically training for our sport? What happens when you stop playing? Then what?
Etc… There is so much more to consider when we are transitioning to life beyond sports, but how can we prevent ourselves or our athletes from burning out?
- Remember why you play.
- Keep it fun. Sports are meant to be a fun social activity, not work or a chore.
- Take time off from your sport if you need it.
- Make time for other hobbies.
- Spend quality time with family and friends.
*Develop a social circle outside of your sport or training environment.
Please keep in mind that there is more to life than sports or competition. Life is about experiences and people- creating memorable experiences with people we love. If you’re on the verge of feeling burned out from your sport, or if you feel you “need a break,” take a break! That doesn’t mean you need to be done for good… just take some time to recover and then get back to it. What’s the point if we’re not happy?