Eat, sleep, play. Athletes hear that phrase a lot, and it isn’t that far-fetched from their everyday routine.
In today’s society, athletes and sports coaches are conditioned to think that more is better. More training, more practice, and more playing will lead to that win.
But like everything in life, too much of one thing can lead to an unbalanced and unhealthy lifestyle.
Once athletes reach the point where they are pushing themselves to the absolute limit, they often reach what is commonly called burnout.
What is burnout?
Athletic burnout is a result of both the physical and mental strain athletes deal with when they undergo consistent, rigorous training. Athletes must also strictly manage their time around multiple practices, weight-lifting sessions, school, and family and friend duties, leaving little time for self-care.
What does burnout look like?
Burnout has multiple symptoms, including worse athletic performance or decrease in stamina, higher resting heart rate, forgetfulness, moodiness, irritability, anxiety, or depression. Dealing with too many of these symptoms can often lead to dropping out of the sport.
Who deals with burnout the most?
Athletic burnout can happen at any age, from youth players to elite athletes. However, burnout seems to be very common in student-athletes, especially at the collegiate level. A study by Silva (1990) found that 47 percent of athletes surveyed at the Atlantic Coast Conference reported feeling burnt out at some point in their athletic career.
Collegiate-level or even student-athletes deal with many factors that could potentially lead to burnout, including multiple undergoing practices/training sessions per day, balancing rigorous college classes, studying, as well as attempting to maintain a social life. Often, this amount of stress is too much to handle, and athletes end up dropping out of the program.
How to avoid burnout
Rest between seasons
The most effective way to prevent burning out is to increase rest, especially between seasons. This ensures that athletes have enough time to recover after an intense season and to prepare for the next one.
Leave time for sleep
During in-season training, athletes should be getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Though this is difficult for athletes to balance early morning practices, demanding class schedules, as well as social responsibilities, athletes should try to finish their work in advance to leave time for adequate sleep.
Coaches, tutors, and professors should be willing to help athletes plan their schedules to allow for enough rest.
Adjust practices to avoid burnout
Though coaches might believe that pushing athletes to train harder will lead to a better outcome, it often leads to burnout and at times, dropping out of the sport. To avoid this, coaches should consider an adjusted practice schedule.
Coaches should be aware of the risk of athlete burnout, and should adjust the rigor of their practices depending on the likelihood of athletes burning out during that time, or whether athletes are undergoing intense study (finals/midterm periods).
No matter the age of the athlete, athletes are at risk of burnout if they are continually pushing themselves to the limit and are not giving themselves enough time to rest.
Both athletes and coaches must assess whether the athlete’s current schedule is working for them to mitigate burnout risk.