What to know to help athletes recognize and avoid burnout:
The fiercely competitive world of sports celebrates those who embody iron will and sheer grit. Not only are they perceived to have an edge over others, but their character is idolized. Statistics from the National Basketball Association (NBA) show that:
- 1 in 17 high school players play in college
- 1 in 8,926 high school players is drafted by the NBA
- 1 in 525 college players is drafted by the NBA
While such figures highlight the amount of pressure athletes face in terms of performance and winning, it's important to understand why athletes need rest and recovery, both physically and mentally. Intense physical exertion, be it running long distances or swimming laps, puts the body under immense stress. Instead of strengthening the desired regions, such physical challenges could potentially damage the body when recurring too frequently without a break.
Trainers and coaches play a crucial role in keeping athletes motivated, energized and healthy. The following are some techniques trainers can use to help athletes avoid burnout.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Burnout
For optimal performance a physical and psychological evaluation is necessary, followed by modifications to the intensity and duration of the training program. Being aware of the signs of burnout helps trainers to monitor athletes and prevent body overload. So what should you be watching for?
- Diminished performance and stamina losses
- Chronic Fatigue
- Physiological signs like a high resting heart rate and blood pressure
- Cognitive troubles including loss of memory and difficulty in concentrating
- Tendency to fall ill
- Emotional irregularities such as irritability, moodiness, anxiety or depression
- Low self-esteem from falling short of sport demands
Maintaining a Training Log
A log helps keep track of details such as distance covered, duration of practice, pace of workouts and perceived intensity. Measuring heart rate and blood pressure, as well as using a scale to assess fatigue, sleep and muscle soreness is a quantifiable evaluation of an athlete's well- being. Making a note of factors including stressors, illnesses, and injuries can help monitor performance, training progress and potential burnout.
Incorporating Interval Workouts
Disconnecting from the usual routine is the principle behind basic athletic training. Interval workouts alternate between focused regimes and taking it easy. Physiology researcher Stephen Seiler was one of the first to scientifically document the strategies adopted by elite sportsmen across various endurance sports, such as running, skiing and cycling. The best athletes did not follow the "no pain, no gain" model or the high- intensity interval training (HIIT). On the contrary, they were alternating between periods of intense physical work and that of easy training and relaxation.
Having Adequate Sleep
Most athletes rise before or at dawn for conditioning sessions and practice. Like most American adults and students, many do not get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night. A dysfunctional sleep cycle leads to constant fatigue, anxiety and irritability. The inability to focus on workouts and starting to lag behind in performance, can eventually lead to mental health issues. Emphasizing the importance of a good night's sleep is crucial to athletic performance.
In the words of Olympic champion sprinter, Usain Bolt -
Sleep is extremely important to me — I need to rest and recover in order for the training I do to be absorbed by my body.
Taking Time Away
Most people feel guilty about taking breaks. But science shows even professional athletes benefit from the occasional hiatus. Take for example, tennis superstar Roger Federer. After his knee surgery last year, the Swiss professional tennis player lost in the semifinals at Wimbledon. Following this, he chose to take the rest of the year off and spend it with family. When he returned, he won the Australian open to everyone's amazement. He took a break again, and skipped the clay-courts, including the French Open. Today, he broke all records to win his eighth Wimbledon championship.
Taking Advantage of Innovations
Trainers can incorporate new player tracking technologies that measure an athlete's exertion, and target recovery and rehabilitation strategies. Major League Baseball for instance, utilizes a data solution called StatCast. It uses both radar and cameras to provide extensive data on players including strike zone, path curvature and peak accelerations. A crucial set of data it gathers is pitcher release points, which help track pitcher fatigue. As explained by Kevin Forbes, Senior Product Specialist with Kinduct,
“What you can actually do is determine how far the athlete has travelled and get detailed information about their acceleration, their speed and with that you can begin to understand some of the stresses, exertions and loads on an athlete during competition.”
With pressure to outperform competitors, athletes undergo intense workout regimes and physical training. However, scientific evidence is increasingly proving that adequate rest is inherent to peak performance in sports. A period of adequate rest and recovery heals the body, so that it is better prepared for future stress. With energy levels receiving a boost, an athlete is able to transcend the performance plateau the body experiences.