Burnout

Burnout

IN THIS ISSUE: 

BURNOUT is a serious problem for a lot of athletes and coaches. In the quest for perfection and to get a leg up on the competition athletes spend more and more time training. Because hard work has usually paid off for them, many athletes mistakenly figure that even harder work will offer even greater dividends. Without knowing it many athletes find themselves at a point of diminishing returns where their hard training begins to backfire. They begin to experience performance problems, lose their motivation to train, start suffering from chronic injuries or begin to question their goals. Very simply, burnout has begun to creep in. Athletes become mentally and physically exhausted because of a “more is better” mentality. The fact of the matter is that very often, “less is more,” that the QUALITY of your training is much more important than the QUANTITY. One important ingredient that significantly adds to the quality of your training is the amount of rest that you build in for yourself. Without sufficient time away from your training you will lower the quality of your workouts and performances and risk burning out. In this issue we will examine the topic of burnout and what coaches, parents and athletes can do to prevent it. 

ATHLETE’S LOCKER - “Rest is an important part of your training.”
PARENT’S CORNER - “Is my child at risk for BURNOUT?”
COACH’S OFFICE – “The coach’s job in BATTLING BURNOUT.” 
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Sharpen Your Axe!”

ATHLETE’S LOCKER

“Rest is an important part of your training.”

Rest is an important part of your training. It’s NOT just something that you do after you’re done working out. It’s NOT something less conditioned, weaker athletes need more of than their stronger, better conditioned counterparts. It’s NOT something that will slow down your progress towards your athletic dreams like so many athletes mistakenly believe. On the contrary! Rest or taking time off is absolutely essential for you to make that dream of yours come true. It’s critical to your overall development as an athlete. Without adequate enough rest you will not only slow down your progress, but you may even set yourself up for burnout or a career ending injury.

Perhaps you love your sport dearly. Maybe you simply can’t get enough of it and if it was left up to you, you’d train 24, 7, 365! Maybe you’re that determined and motivated an individual and have some really important goals that you want more than anything to accomplish. Or maybe you’re an exercise addict and unless you’re training continuously you don’t feel good about yourself. Regardless of what your sport does for you and why you do it, it’s critical that you understand that well timed breaks in your training regime will actually help you get to where you want to go faster and happier! 

Let’s define the rest that I’m telling you is so important to your success as an athlete. Rest refers to physical and mental time off from your sport and every aspect of your training. Rest means taking a “complete” vacation or break when you don’t think about or engage in training. Instead, you do something totally different so that your mind and body gets a bit of a rest. 

Far too many athletes get anxious about taking any time off claiming that they “can’t afford it,” and have much too much to get done in order to be ready for that upcoming championship, tournament or goal. If you are training hard and feel these kinds of time pressures to reach your goals consider this! You can’t afford NOT to take time off!!

You have to understand that most often the fastest and smartest way to reach your goals is very often the slowest.  While training with built in rest periods may seem like it will take you longer, in actuality it is nowhere near as long as it could be were you to injure yourself because of over training. Pushing yourself relentlessly will only serve to break down your body and make you vulnerable to overuse injuries and illness. The much longer forced breaks because of these unexpected events will set your training way back and force you to start all over again when your body finally heals.

Let me put it simply. You need a healthy mind and body to reach your athletic dreams. You need to keep yourself and your training in balance. A healthy mind and this balance is fueled by a passion or love for your sport. It’s this passion that motivates you to continue training through all the ups and downs that are a normal part of sports. This love or passion has to be YOURS. It can’t belong to your coach or parent. YOU have to train because YOU WANT to.

A healthy body is self-explanatory. You have to be in good physical shape to successfully pursue your goals. If you’re injured, sick or physically exhausted your training investment will be of a much lower quality than the one you make when you’re healthy, happy and rested. Persistent training through chronic injury or chronic fatigue will put you at risk for more serious injury, illness and burnout.

Taking time away from your sport will keep your passion burning bright and keep you in balance. It will give you time to recharge your mental and physical batteries, to emotionally refresh yourself. Build in several days to a week here and there at various points during your training. Sometimes longer time off in between seasons is necessary. Frequently dropping your sport for a while and cross training in another sport will provide you with similar benefits. However, be careful here. While cross training helps keep you mentally fresh, it may continue to break down an over trained body.

Remember, the fastest way to your goal is the SMARTEST. Keep yourself in balance. Give your mind and body frequent rests. Rest is a critical part of your training and absolutely necessary for you to get the most out of your sport. PARENT’S CORNER

“Is my child at risk for burnout?”

Kids experience burnout from sports in two dimensions: Physically and mentally. Both of these dimensions intertwine so that as a parent you end up seeing symptoms from both dimensions. To help you better understand burnout, let’s briefly examine the child-athlete who is experiencing the positive opposite. 

When your child is having a healthy, positive experience in her sport she is having FUN! She loves the activity and can’t wait to practice or compete. She is energized by her participation and highly motivated to continue. She feels good about herself and this good feeling is reinforced by participation and pervades all her other activities outside the sport. In addition your child’s behaviors and mood appear relatively “normal” and predictable, (When you’re raising an adolescent the mood shifts characteristic of this period feel far from normal). She acts like herself and her eating and sleeping patterns are consistent. 

However, the child experiencing burnout displays a very different set of behaviors. The child at risk for burnout has lost interest in his sport. His high energy and enthusiasm is replaced by low energy, negative feelings, boredom and apathy. Fun disappears from the sport and is frequently replaced by dislike or, in extreme cases even hate. As burnout sets in excited anticipation of an upcoming practice or game gives way to dread and avoidance. The at-risk child no longer feels good about himself and sometimes views the sport as something that feeds his low self-esteem.

If your child is at risk for burnout look for changes in her behaviors and mood in relation to her sport. She may appear more depressed or “blue.” She may be more withdrawn. You can sometimes see behavioral explosions as the child’s frustration and anger bubbles over. (I know, I know I’m describing “normal” adolescent behavior). You may also be able to notice significant changes in the child’s eating habits. Her appetite may diminish and she may experience changes in her sleeping patterns, either sleeping more or having difficulty sleeping. Also, if you find that you’re battling with your child more about her sports participation and you’re having a tough time getting her to go, that’s a potential indicator that your child is a candidate for burnout. 

So let’s say that you notice some of the above behavioral indicators of burnout. What then? First of all, immediately sit down and talk with your son or daughter. Try to get a good handle on what is going on for them. Listen carefully to what they have to say to you. Is their unhappiness being fueled by poor performances? Is it related to bad or insensitive coaching? Is it related to the pressure that you may be directly or indirectly applying? Is the sport more important to YOU than it is to them? One of the surest ways to kill a child’s enjoyment of a sport and hasten the burnout process is to make winning too important. Is that going on here? If you really want to help your child you have to be willing to listen carefully and take an honest look at yourself as the parent.

If after talking with your child you’re still not too clear about what may be going on, sit down and chat with the coach. Their input and perspective may be most helpful in clarifying and beginning to resolve the problem. Check to see if the coach is making the sport fun enough. Find out if there is something that they may be able to do to change your child’s experience.  If you think your child is on the verge of burning out then give them a “vacation” from the sport. 

Whether this is a week, a month or more depends on the situation and your child. Let them be the judge about when they may be ready to return. Perhaps it may be time to change programs or even sports. Remember, keeping a child in a sport should NOT be based on their talent level and potential but on their well being and happiness. If a child hates a sport but has tremendous potential in it, think of your child’s happiness first, NOT what kind of glory you think they may be able to achieve IF ONLY they “hang in there.” 

Remember, no sport, NO SPORT is so important that you want to sacrifice your child’s emotional well being for their so-called success. If the fun has left the sport, take time off. If the fun and desire returns, then it’s time to pick the activity up again. Youth sports last a relatively short time of your child’s overall development and lifetime. When your child has grown up and starts a family of his/her own, hopefully the healthy relationship you CHOSE to establish when he/she was younger and participating in sports, will continue and mature into a mutually satisfying and loving relationship for both of you. Remember, it’s just a game.

So let’s say that you notice some of the above behavioral indicators of burnout. What then? First of all, immediately sit down and talk with your son or daughter. Try to get a good handle on what is going on for them. Listen carefully to what they have to say to you. Is their unhappiness being fueled by poor performances? Is it related to bad or insensitive coaching? Is it related to the pressure that you may be directly or indirectly applying? Is the sport more important to YOU than it is to them? One of the surest ways to kill a child’s enjoyment of a sport and hasten the burnout process is to make winning too important. Is that going on here? If you really want to help your child you have to be willing to listen carefully and take an honest look at yourself as the parent.

If after talking with your child you’re still not too clear about what may be going on, sit down and chat with the coach. Their input and perspective may be most helpful in clarifying and beginning to resolve the problem. Check to see if the coach is making the sport fun enough. Find out if there is something that they may be able to do to change your child’s experience.  If you think your child is on the verge of burning out then give them a “vacation” from the sport. Whether this is a week, a month or more depends on the situation and your child. Let them be the judge about when they may be ready to return. Perhaps it may be time to change programs or even sports. Remember, keeping a child in a sport should NOT be based on their talent level and potential but on their well being and happiness. If a child hates a sport but has tremendous potential in it, think of your child’s happiness first, NOT what kind of glory you think they may be able to achieve IF ONLY they “hang in there.” 

Remember, no sport, NO SPORT is so important that you want to sacrifice your child’s emotional well being for their so-called success. If the fun has left the sport, take time off. If the fun and desire returns, then it’s time to pick the activity up again. Youth sports last a relatively short time of your child’s overall development and lifetime. When your child has grown up and starts a family of his/her own, hopefully the healthy relationship you CHOSE to establish when he/she was younger and participating in sports, will continue and mature into a mutually satisfying and loving relationship for both of you. Remember, it’s just a game.

COACH’S OFFICE

“Battling Burnout”

What coach doesn’t like a motivated, happy athlete. Her positive attitude and work ethic is infectious and lifts the level of your entire squad. Her energy and love for the sport makes doing your job a real pleasure. If only coaching were so simple that you could order up an entire team of like-minded, highly motivated individuals.

Unfortunately, this is not how the real world works. More often times than not, you have a tremendous mix of skill levels, personalities, energy levels and motivations on your squad that challenges your patience and sanity. Add to this the reality that you have to find a balance between teaching the proper skills of the sport, pushing your athletes outside of their comfort zone to improve and get in good condition without killing their love for the sport and their motivation and you really have your work cut out for you.

This is why good coaching is an art form. You have to sell your athletes on the pursuit of excellence and the love of hard work, while at the same time making sure that you continue to kindle their passion for the sport. Any time you regularly put athletes in a position where they have to consistently step outside of their comfort zone, both physically and emotionally, (Remember, you can’t get better unless you GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE, unless you get used to challenging yourself with tougher competition, harder workouts, more challenging drills, working on your weaknesses, etc.) you risk pushing them too hard and them becoming a burnout statistic. 

To counteract this it’s your job as a coach to closely monitor your players’ physical and emotional “fuel tanks.” When either gets too low you need to be able to help them “fill up.” Burnout is a product of “running on empty” for too long. Good coaching is not just about knowing the sport and how to teach the skills. It’s about being in tune with your athletes and having some sense of where they are physically and emotionally. It’s virtually impossible to be an effective teacher when your audience is not receptive because of burnout.

So what can you do if you begin to detect the “running on empty” symptoms of burnout, (low energy, more then normal squabbling between players, too many team crises dujour, bad attitudes, incessant complaining, repetitive poor performances, no fun.)? Try the following burnout busting strategies:

#1 USE VARIETY - There’s nothing that feeds burnout as much as boredom and repetition. If you run your practices the same way all the time, do the same old drills, in the same old order, you’ll bore your athletes to tears and kill their enjoyment. Instead, mix things up. Introduce variety in your training. Try new drills. Do different workouts. Shuffle things up. The more variety, the more interest. The more interest, the more enthusiasm. The more enthusiasm, the higher quality of training your athletes will have. 

#2 BE UNPREDICTABLE - Unpredictability goes hand in hand with variety but refers more to YOU. Along with repetition, predictability feeds boredom and can fuel burnout. Dare to be different as a coach. Take risks. Change your behavior and do the unexpected. Bring in outside speakers or visiting coaches. Give an unexpected break or play a popular goal oriented game when the team is expecting a brutal workout that day. Unpredictability feeds excitement.

#3 BE FLEXIBLE - The coaching era of “my way or the highway” is dead and gone. You can have a highly motivated, discipline group of athletes without being an inflexible, hard headed, old fashioned tyrant. Be willing to look at things from a variety of perspectives. Your way is NOT always the best way no matter how talented or experienced you may be as a coach. 
 
Frequently when you are right in the middle of something you lose perspective. Be open to feedback. Listen to your coaching staff. Listen to your athletes. Be willing to change your behavior. Being flexible does NOT mean that you are wishy-washy. Every one of your athletes is different. Your skill and effectiveness in reaching each one depends on your flexibility to meet them at their own model of the world. 

#4 MODEL ENTHUSIASM/PASSION FOR YOUR SPORT - Good coaches are passionate about what they do. Burnout can’t happen when love and passion are present. If you love what you’re doing and you model this, you will have happier, better motivated athletes. If you’re in the drone zone as a coach and you’re bored out of your gourd, just going through the motions, then you’ll put your athletes to sleep and contribute to them losing interest in what they are doing. Love the challenge, love your job and be passionate about the sport and you’ll be doing a whole lot to combat burnout.

#5 HAVE FUN - You can have fun and allow your athletes to enjoy themselves without detracting from your mission and the hard work necessary to be successful. Fun is an important ingredient in peak performance and is present in every healthy coaching environment. If you are too serious all the time, you’ll being doing your part to inadvertently contribute to the burnout process in your athletes. Athletes learn much faster and are better motivated when they are having fun. Be creative. How can you integrate fun into what you have to do on a daily or weekly basis. The younger the athletes you work with, the more critical it is that you build this into your program. 

#6 EMPHASIZE THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME - Burnout gets fueled by an overemphasis on outcome. If you over stress the importance of winning and instill a fear of losing, you will distract your athletes, tighten them up and interfere with them performing to their potential. Furthermore, the pressure that comes from overemphasizing winning will kill your athletes enjoyment of the sport and contribute to them burning out. Instead, teach the importance of the process. This means that you want to stress proper execution, technique, strategy, etc. If you spend more energy on these process elements, the outcome will take care of itself.

#7 ENCOURAGE YOUR ATHLETES TO ENGAGE IN OTHER SPORTS - If you are working with athletes under 14 years of age, it’s in your best interest to allow them, if they so desire, to participate in other sports. Overspecialization at too young an age contributes to getting stale later on. Forcing a young athlete to give up additional sports that they love so that they can practice and compete all year long is a BIG mistake on your part. Participating in other sports during the off season keeps the athlete’s interest and enthusiasm high. Sometime during early adolescence the athlete may need to chose just one sport. However, you should never force a younger athlete to make this choice.

#8 BUILD IN TIME OFF AND “VACATION” DAYS - It’s important that you recognize and appreciate the need for time off. It’s critical that you not only encourage your athletes to take breaks but that you let them do this with your blessings. Making an athlete feel guilty for taking time off is a mistake. Having days and weeks off built into your yearly program is important to maintain high enthusiasm and motivation. Springing periodic surprise “vacation days” is also important. A vacation day is when the athlete comes for a regular workout and you spend the practice time playing something that most kids love.

#9 TAKE TIME OFF YOURSELF - To keep yourself from becoming a victim of burnout you must practice what you preach. Have a life. Take time off. Go on vacation yourself. Do things that YOU love which allow you to get away and recharge your physical and emotional batteries. If you take care of yourself it will be a whole lot easier for you to prevent burnout in your athletes.

#10 BE EMPATHIC - Get to know your athletes as individuals. Try to temporarily put yourself in their shoes to tap into what they are feeling. If you truly understand your athletes and can communicate this understanding to them, you will be able in a far better position to head burnout off at the pass so-to-speak. If you are oblivious to your athletes feelings and don’t care about what’s going on for them, then burnout has some fertile soil to grow in. 

DR. G’S TEACHING TALES

“Sharpen your Axe”

Once upon a time, a very strong and talented woodcutter came to a timber merchant and asked for a job. Because the merchant was sort on good help he readily hired the woodcutter and promised to pay him well. As further incentive the merchant agreed to pay the woodsman an additional bonus for every tree he cut down over 15 in a days’ time. Because the job promised to pay quite well and the working conditions were excellent, the woodcutter was quite motivated to do his very best.

The merchant provided the woodsman with a new axe and the woodcutter immediately set off on foot to the area where he was to begin working. 

Feeling strong, excited and enthusiastic, the woodsman eagerly went to work on that first day. In an awesome display of skill and strength the woodcutter cut down and prepared 18 trees for his new boss. At the end of the day, the merchant was as delighted as the woodcutter. 
“Congratulations” his new boss said, “If you keep on at this pace you will make us both a great deal of money and we shall have a very successful partnership!”
Feeling even more motivated by his boss’s words, the woodcutter came to work the very next day even more focused and determined. But try as hard as he could, he only cut down 14 trees! Disappointed but no less determined, he went out the next day fired up to make up the difference. However, on this third day he could only cut down and prepare 10 trees! Day after day, and trying harder and harder, he kept bringing back less and less trees.  

“I must be losing my strength” the woodcutter mistakenly thought. he could come up with no other explanation for his steadily diminishing production. He went to his new boss and apologized profusely, saying that he could not understand what was really going on.

The boss looked at him and then at his axe. He asked the woodsman, “When was the last time you sharpened your axe my friend?”

“Sharpen my axe?” the woodcutter repeated puzzled. I have not sharpened my axe at all. I have had no time to sharpen my axe. I have been too busy cutting down your trees!”

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