Mental Burnout in Sport
Part 3: How to Prevent and Overcome Mental Burnout
After discussing potential causes for mental burnout, as well as some signs that might indicate an athlete is experiencing it, this third and final instalment on mental burnout will provide you with some suggestions on how to prevent and overcome this issue.
The first and most obvious thing to do if you notice an athlete is beginning to show signs of burnout is to take some time off. In elite sport however, this is not always an option. If the signs start to appear in the peak of the competitive season where a week off is not an option, incorporate a week or 2 of going back to the basics. Coaches, it is important to not bring attention to the fact that you are scaling training back and to not emphasize the fact that it is “basics week”. This will spare the athlete from added mental turmoil, as the negative feelings often associated with taking time off, such as guilt for missing practice or fear of falling behind will be eliminated. If possible, keep the drills relevant to the skills the athlete has been working on.
If the athlete must attend a game or competition while he or she is experiencing any of the signs from Part 2, it is crucial to remove as much pressure from the competitive setting as possible. Pressure and nerves are inevitable in a competition setting; these are and always will be part of sport. However they can be managed and even relieved.
One way to do so is to not hold the athlete to the same expectations as a previously successful performance, and ensure the athlete is not holding him or herself to those same expectations. If the game or competition is important, try to take as much focus off the outcome as possible. This can be done by setting a specific goal for that athlete that focuses on the execution of a particular component of the performance. (ex. in swimming focus on the walls; 4 dolphin kicks of every wall. A soccer player could focus on controlling a received pass, then locating a target. A golfer could focus on following through on all drives and always having a relaxed grip on the club.) This will narrow the athletes focus and hopefully alleviate some of the pressure. A more narrow focus requires less mental energy, and an athlete who may already be mentally burnt out will not have the mental energy to fuel a broad, outcome driven focus.
Another option to cope with and over come mental burnout is to register for a fun competition or training camp if the option is available. Athletes always feel less stress and anxiety when the results of a competition are irrelevant in regards to the rest of the season. In addition, participating in a less serious competition where the results carry less meaning will also cause the athlete’s focus to narrow. A more narrow focus also allows the athlete to pay closer attention to executing the necessary skills, and as a result will likely perform well.
If an athlete who is suffering from, or is on the verge of mental burnout is not given the necessary mental recovery, he or she will slip into a series of underperforming and this can create the belief that he or she “can’t compete” or is “in a slump”. These types of self beliefs are incredibly debilitating to performance, and are very difficult to over-write which can in extreme cases lead to the end of the athlete’s sporting career.
If none of the options above are possible, it is critical to have an athlete who may be at risk of mental burnout to talk to someone about what he or she is thinking, feeling and experiencing. This could be an expert in the field, such as a mental performance coach, or even a coach, team mate or parent. If it is caught early enough, simply talking about what is going on can be a huge relief for the athlete, as he or she is no longer holding it in and using mental energy in attempts to comprehend it all.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, mental burnout is a dangerous thing to athletes and can have detrimental effects on sport performance. Being aware of the potential causes, signs and methods to prevent and overcome it can make all the difference in the world of an athlete!