Preventing Burnout: Tips from The Top

How can what was once a childhood dream turn into a monotonous chore? One word: burnout. I know what you’re thinking, “Sam, that will NEVER happen to me!”. Say what you will, my friend. It is usually a slow fade, and one day you wake up thinking, “There is no way; I can’t go through another practice/workout/game etc!” I would define burnout for our intents and purposes as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion caused by a prolonged period of overwork/pressure related to sports performance. I might add that it is not sport specific; athletes across the board report feeling less than motivated at one time or another. That is completely normal, it becomes a problem when it is a chronic condition and it prohibits you from optimal athletic performance.

No matter what sport you play, it is imperative to keep your mental health in check. While I caught up with some old running buddies, I believe the following tidbits are helpful for any student-athlete. I collected their thoughts on how they stay motivated and pursuing their running dreams, even when the going gets tough.

An old Baylor friend, who holds some rather speedy times…20:29 for a 6K, 4:24 for 1500m, a sub 3 hour marathon (post graduation), just to name a few, shares her thoughts…”I do it (running) because I like it. I like racing and feeling fast, and I like being able to work on something a little everyday to sum up to being a bigger accomplishment. It’s also much simpler than other things in life haha. Put work in, most of the time you get a satisfying result.” Solid points.

Another teammate, who now runs professionally for New Balance Canada put it this way: “Honestly, what motivates me everyday is pretty simple, it’s just my love for running. When I run I have this feeling that I can’t really describe in words, but I guess the best way to describe it is that running makes me feel free and connects me to a deeper part of myself that I wouldn’t know if I didn’t run. My passion for running is what drives me…”

A high school friend whom I ran with, and she went on to compete at the collegiate level makes a great point that even when the grind is tough, keeping your long term goals in mind is super important. She says, “For me, I always knew I wanted to run marathons, so this (competing in college) helped me get there! It was a huge step up from high school mileage, and all the strength work helped me build a solid base to now run injury free.” She went on to qualify and compete in the famous Boston Marathon 🙌.

From my personal experience, all the above points are more than valid. But for me, by my senior year at Baylor, I was mentally struggling to make it to graduation – the end of my competitive running days. My relationship with my coach was far from perfect and my inability to separate that, from my performance, left me wanting to throw in the towel altogether. Am I making excuses? No, I am only explaining how I felt. My faith helped, but didn’t make the problem go away. Sometimes it is just putting one foot in front of the other, quite literally.

A good friend with whom I ran and lived with my entire time at Baylor recently recommended the book, What Made Maddy Run and I finished it within TWO days! I couldn’t put it down. I don’t want to give away any spoilers other than it shares the dark struggles of an Ivy League distance runner. While it focuses on running, I argue many, if not all the points made in the book are applicable to any college student-athlete.

Based on input from my peers, I would summarize that pure passion, determination, long term goals and for those to which it applies (faith), help to keep student-athletes from burnout. I would point out that a one-size fits all approach isn’t the answer. Every student-athlete comes with a unique history and perspective, so it takes an individualized plan. For some, even a change of scenery can help alleviate the mental taxation college athletics causes. (See featured image…a little mid-run photo op while running in OV the other day. Beach run for the win! 🤗🌊⛱️)

I will note that some colleges/universities employ a sports psychologist on staff to help manage the stress and/or anxiety related to athletic performance, but it is definitely not the norm.

What are your thoughts? What strategies/tips do you use to help keep your mental game on point?! We would love to hear your thoughts! Comment below 😄