Burn out – is it a myth

You often hear the term in sport of players “burn out” or managing a players workload so they don’t lose their edge. Is this actually something that happens or is it just a myth that coaches, players and management use to make excuses for a poor performance on the sporting arena? I’m sure there is a ton of research that goes into this area considering if it’s true it can cost a team or person millions of dollars if they lose that one vital game. Look at things like the American Super bowl recently. The 49ers one of the favorites bombed out early on in the final stages. Was that a case of player burnout meaning at vital moments crucial plays went begging? I don’t really know a heck of a lot about American football but that was just one example of potential player burnout costing a team the monetary benefits from making one of the worlds biggest sporting event finals.

I personally think that this term and the practices that people put around to manage it is not a myth. In fact I think it’s very real in today’s society and the pressures in the sporting world. First of all, what would I consider burning out? I think this has two essential aspects.

1) Mental fatigue
2) Physical fatigue

Mental fatigue

I think this is the most important and hindering factor into the burn-out conundrum. If you are not mentally on top of your game then no matter how good your body feels you will never reach the full potentially on the day. It can effect your training and conditioning. Who feels like going for a 10km run, or lifting those heavy weights when mentally they just can’t be bothered?

Mental fatigue is when you wake up in the day and actually dread the days training session. Or when you turn up and not only does everything feels like hard work, at the end of it you don’t feel refreshed and revived. This happens day in and day out. You get asked questions about aspects of your performance and you can’t think about answers because your mentally fatigued.

The glass is currently half full and you don’t see a-lot of the world in a positive light. All of these things effect you not only on the sporting arena but at home and in your personal life. Like a slippery slide, mental fatigue is the hidden un-measurable sloop to under performing.

Physical fatigue

I think this one is easier to manage as it has more tangible visible attributes. Literally your body is struggling to cope with the demands you are placing on it. The aches are taking longer to get right, or they are never getting right. It takes longer to get into the grove of things because the body is still repairing it’s damage from previous training sessions. You compound this by never giving your body a rest as each day is important to ensure you get that training session in.

Of course this could just be old age. I know all about that these days 🙂 But too many sportspeople around the world have played sport until a ripe old age to show that although things get harder with age, age is not an unclimbable barrier.

Why is this a problem today?

I think this has always been a problem however we are only now putting words to these issues and identifying the problems. However in saying that, I believe it has gotten worse with the advent of sport becoming more of a job than a sport in modern society. I realize many sports have been like this for years. However with technology advancements media influence has become a bigger part in sporting circles. Sportsman these days are expected to front up to media at a regular interval. They sign up for advertising campaigns in order to that that extra pay packet. Their face is in the papers, on the internet, on the TV. All these factors make it harder for the sportsman to go home at the end of the day, put their feet up and simply relax. Something that would have been a-lot easier 20 or so years ago.

Can a well known player just go down to the local pub or club and relax without worrying about someone taking a photo while they are in a potential uncompromising position? I don’t think so!!!! And that adds pressure outside of their sporting arena which compounds the issue of burn out.

Managing the burn out

I think burn out management is a huge aspect of a persons performance. As much as making sure you “train better, train smarter” and “good practice makes perfect” not the old common phase of “practice makes perfect” as many people think. I’m a firm believer that you can get more with less if you are wiser in your management of how you go about the training regime during a season, or for many sports during the year.

Some simple things I think would help:

1) Get a life outside of the game. Your passion might be the sport you are doing but your mind needs time to re-charge. Having a life and friends outside of the environment where you train and play would help to resolve this.
2) Train smarter not longer. Training for the sack of training is not necessarily a good thing. Make sure your training is for a purpose so that each session is improving your skill set and making you a better person and player.
3) High intensity training over long training sessions. This ties in with number 2. Just because you trained for 2 hours doesn’t mean the session was beneficial. I’ve been involved in a variety of sessions and by far the best have been when it’s been focused, specific and for a purpose. No mucking around, spending time chatting about irreverent things. Each training session was planned and targeted the areas you wanted to target.
4) Be honest outside of the game. If your dealing with the media and or other people just be honest and upfront. There can’t be a story to talk about and make a scandal of if you are the one to talk about it and bring it up.
5) Don’t try to please everyone. The most important person in your sport is you. Followed with and often in conjunction is your wife and kids. These are the people that matter most and who’s opinions you should care about above all others. Of course your mum, dad and brothers and sisters will matter as well so you may wish to include them in your circle. However, old Jim the news reporter, or Bob the bloke down at the local club. They should never register on your radar of trying to please people. Be polite and courteous is about as much as they can expect.
6) Accept there will be haters. There are going to be haters. Accept and if you follow 5, they will not get to you.
7) Accept the media. The media is a part of the game. Embrace them, and you might find they return the favor a bit.

These are just my thoughts. Everyone’s different. It’s easier for me to say these things on a computer, and harder to put them into practice. However if it was easy then everyone would be a great athlete. And we all know that true greats in a sport are few and far between.

Player burn out is real and until it can be truly accepted we will continue to wonder why players are not lasting long, or why our team seems to go through phases of playing well and not playing well. People management these days of the sporting calendar is as important as the actual skill someone has in the game.

I always like to think:

“Natural skill will only get you 20% of the way there. It’s how you make up the other 80% that will determine your level of success”

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