There’s something wrong with your game. Your attitude toward it has shifted. You used to live and breathe for your game, looking forward to every aspect, and doing whatever you could to become better at it. Now it’s the middle of the season and the hours spent practicing, the long road trips, even some of the games seem tedious. You’d rather be anywhere but out on the field.
Welcome to mid-season burnout, a phenomenon often experienced by athletes. It knows no bounds. It can affect anyone at any level, and it has real consequences. (See what Georgia T&F Coach Jon Stuart has to say about Dealing with Burnout.)
Characterized by mental withdrawal from an activity an athlete once enjoyed, burnout has several aspects—emotional, physical and social. In their article in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, Daniel Gould and Meredith A. Whitley write that “burnout is typically the result of stress associated with athletic success.”
Burnout has negative effects both psychologically and physiologically.
Some athletes experience a significant decrease in their motivation. It can get to a point where they no longer care whether they succeed or not. These athletes are “going through the motions” at practice or during competition.
Even at the elite level, it is not uncommon to see a burned-out athlete devaluing the importance of succes in their beloved sport.
These symptoms are easier to spot and just as serious. They include exhaustion, general fatigue and insomnia. And when you reach the point of burnout, you’re at a higher risk for injury. It’s not uncommon to observe overuse injuries, resulting from performing a repetitive motion too many times.
According to Dr. Matthew J. Matava, overuse injuries are associated with training errors. Burned-out athletes are less likely to be mindful of their form, resulting in an injury. Overuse injuries can also occur when activity level is increased too fast, or when training intensity is not reduced in relation to the added stress of the competitive season. (Read more of what Dr. Matava has to say about overuse injuries.)
Acute injuries, the kind that result from a specific event, can also happen if you’re burned out. You may be more susceptible to an accident if you are not paying attention to your surroundings because you’re unmotivated, or because you don’t care about the outcome of the game or practice.
How to Avoid Burnout
Now that you know what can happen if you get burned out, how you can avoid it?
As a Coach
Develop a team training plan for the entire year, not just for the competitive season. Decrease training volume and intensity during the season.
Adding games or tournaments just to add them on top of your existing training program places unnecessary stress that can lead to burnout. Have clear goals for your team. Know at which point(s) during the season you want your players’ performance to peak and plan your training program accordingly.
Work to achieve your conditioning and strength goals before the season starts. That way, you can work on maintaining gains instead of overtaxing your players’ minds and bodies.
(Check out “Coaching,” by Brian Mac, for tips on how to plan a training schedule.)
As an Athlete
The best thing you can do is listen to your body. If something hurts, tell your athletic trainer or coach. If you feel like you have some of the symptoms of burnout, it might be time to take a day off. Communicate with your coaches and the sports medicine staff. They’re there to help you succeed, but if they don’t know what’s going on with you, they can’t help. Be aware of what to look for, and you will be one step closer to avoiding the dreaded mid-season burnout and succeeding as an athlete.