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Don’t Get Burned Out

Burnout. It happens to everyone, everywhere, everyday. Athletes -young, old, professional, amateur, male and female- all experience burnout in different forms and degrees. Burnout is defined as the physical, emotional, and psychological reaction to intense pressure to fulfill obligations, whether they be sports or otherwise. Simply put, people get tired and worn out because they often take on the responsibility of doing too much. Burnout is most common among professional and Olympic athletes that train hard and work hard for long periods of time.

However, others can also experience burnout in athletics. Burnout leads to reduced interest in the sport, quality of performance, and then withdrawal. Burnout is often associated with overtraining, overreaching, and staleness. Overtraining is the point where training is no longer beneficial but harmful. Overreaching is similar to overtraining however the length of time makes the difference. Overreaching for long periods of time leads to overtraining. Staleness is the effect of reaching a performance plateau. Together with overtraining, staleness eventually leads to athlete burnout.

In sports psychology, several models exist to help explain, prevent, and treat burnout in athletes. Stress models of burnout point to stress as the key factor in burnout. Silva’s training stress model is based on the notion that some training stress is necessary to improve.. These improvements are based on positive adaptation to training stress or negative adaptation to training stress. Smith’s Cognitive-Affective model of burnout has for stages that lead to burnout. Investment model of burnout insists that if an athlete participates in sports based on enjoyment, burnout is less likely to occur.

On the other hand, if an athlete is trapped into participation this will lead to burnout. Empowerment model of burnout suggests that stress is not the cause but merely a symptom of burnout. This theory in particular deals mainly with youths in sports. Burnout normally occurs slowly, over a long period of time. It may express itself physically or mentally. Physical symptoms may include feelings of intense fatigue, changes in heart rate, weight, blood pressure, vulnerability to viral infection, and then immune breakdown.

Mental burnout may manifest itself with feelings of lack of control over commitments, belief that you are accomplishing less, tendency to think negatively, loss of a sense of purpose and increasing detachment to situations that cause stress. In some cases, burnout can lead to a decreased self-esteem. Keeping the sport and activities fun can help prevent burnout from setting in. If athletes are in danger of burning out they can re-evaluate their goals and prioritize them, reduce unnecessary commitments, learn stress management techniques, following a healthy lifestyle, and developing a support network among friends and family.

Interventions can sometimes provide a solution. Self-awareness is the first step. Time off from the activity followed by initiation of relaxation techniques round out the recommended intervention process. Some athletes can move past the burned out stage and continue participating in their sport. Others however, are unable to once again have fun engaging in that sport again. Younger children are increasing vulnerable to burnout. Gymnasts, ice skaters, and other Olympic caliber athletes are pushed at such an early age and so hard that once they can make their own decisions, they reject the sport.

Some also accomplish such large goals so young that they reach a performance plateau early. Parents also push their children to play sports even when they do not wish to play. This can also lead to burnout of young children. Deciding the level of commitment in a desired sport is one of the most important decisions to be made regarding prevention and treatment of burnout. Athletics should be fun, enjoyable and help relieve stress. Once it begins to cause unhealthy levels of stress burnout might follow.

Sport can be a lifetime activity that can enhance life, but in the wrong context sport can be life altering and debilitating. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that supported me regardless of whether or not I participated in sports. My parents encouraged me to participate only if and when I wanted to. Sports were never mandatory and my parents did not push me. They did not live vicariously through my sports participation. I think that is the biggest cause of youth burnout. Parents want their children to excel in a certain sport, maybe one they could have excelled at or one they particularly like.

Regardless of whether or not they child actually enjoys the sport or any sports at all. Participating in youth sports not only helped me develop valuable skills in regards to leaderships, commitment, and team skills. Although I am no longer involved in organized club sports, I see sport as a form a therapy. It helps me relieve stress and feel good. I believe my parents support helped me develop a love of sports and exercise that will last a lifetime and help me live a long healthy happy life.

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