In sport you need to push faster, higher and further but this requires caution, as Steven Mann explains

The Olympic motto “Citius, Altius, Fortius” (faster, higher, stronger) captures the mood of continually having bigger and better goals. However, athletes need to be aware of their own progress and the consequences of the level of training that they undertake.

If an athlete is not attentive to the level of training they’re undertaking and then overtrain, they stress their physical and mental resources beyond their capabilities and this can lead to burnout.

What is burnout?

Burnout is when an athlete has pushed so far that they’ve reached a plateau in their performance and this level is starting to decrease no matter how much harder they train. Pushing further isn’t the problem – quite often the opposite in fact. The problem is when athletes are not aware of the amount of stressors they have to deal with and also not managing these with the correct resources at their disposal.

This imbalance between stressors (overtraining, feeling entrapped in sport) and resources (lack of recovery time, not finding enjoyment in training and not being motivated or satisfied) is the most significant causes of burnout and need to be recognised. This lack of control over individual behaviours and training regime as an athlete can be disastrous. Only the athlete truly knows how they feel both physically and mentally. Life outside of training, including lack of sleep, illness and travel, can also have a major impact. This can contribute to the high level of stressors that an athlete has and diminish their recovery time.

An athlete and coach can look out for a number of symptoms and manifestations, such as physical and emotional exhaustion, performance level, feeling gloomy and frustrated, a lack attention and concentration, headaches, nausea, sleep disturbance and disillusionment. If you become aware of any of these symptoms as an athlete or as a coach then you need to step back and start to re-evaluate the training regime back towards the optimal system.

Avoiding and overcoming burnout

Become aware of your resources and stressors and learn how to balance these. Relaxation techniques, stress management, time management and goal-setting may help. Use a diary to write down one-word notes as to how you feel at times and review these to help you to understand how you feel physically and mentally and then start to rebalance your regime.

Take control over how your training regime goes. Become empowered and allow yourself to help to be part of the planning process. This includes making a conscious effort to ensure time is taken out to recover and rest within the regime in an environment away from sport. Activities outside of training, such as meeting with friends, reading, going for walks and hobbies, are good resources to help your recovery. Make this a section of your training regime.

Adapting training regimes and mixing it up helps prevent staleness and a lack of satisfaction in the sport. Make the sport attractive and challenging with each training session. Coach input and monitoring the athlete are also important. The athlete needs to monitor their own behaviours over the past week and ensure they’ve put rest time into their regime. However, the coach also needs to ask about the well-being of the athlete and ensure that they’re keeping a balanced perspective. Balance may be a term bantered around a lot, but when it comes to being at your optimal level in sport, few things are as important.

» Steven Roy Mann, BSc (Hons), MSc, PGCert, MBPsS, is a performance psychologist and a martial arts coach