Preserving Your Passion: How to Avoid Burnout

April 09, 2019, 10:52 a.m. (ET)

By Megan Bomba, USA Field Hockey Content Development Intern & Messiah College Student-Athlete

When we think of the sports we play, they bring us joy with the memories of triumphs, hard work and happy times with teammates. As we pursue higher levels and dive deeper into commitment, we can lose sight of the reason we started playing in the first place.

Also known as burnout, this feeling leaves us dreading practices, games and other time spent with the sport. Its official definition also includes a lack of feeling of accomplishment surrounding the sport.

The issue of burnout is a nationwide epidemic at multiple playing levels. Young athletes who find themselves strung out between too many commitments end up quitting activities they once loved in favor of relaxation or to focus on one thing. College athletes striving for scholarships push themselves too far when training and feel the sport turns into a job.

So how can we keep our sport a joyous experience that empowers and gratifies us with the time we put in?

This effort must start early. As we put children into activities, it is important to remember that this is a pivotal time in their lives. Kids can lose interest when something is no longer fun. Giving them a variety of options is the best way to let them choose what they want to do. 

“Children who specialize in one sport early in life were found to be the first to quit their sport and ended up having higher inactivity rates as an adult,” reported Dr. Charles Popkin of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
What this means is that while we look so far ahead at college and scholarships for our kids, we must remember that pushing them to become an elite athlete at a young age is not the goal. The goal is to give them a way to run off energy and have fun at the same time.

As for older athletes, in order to reduce burnout, the focus should still be placed on enjoying the sport. If a player no longer feels joy from spending time on the pitch or from performing well, it is easy for them to hang up the towel. With other pressing concerns to worry about, the sport seems like a duty rather than a privilege.

As a student-athlete, whether it be high school or college, it is important to manage the stress on this feeling. With responsibilities piling up and the demands of sport seemingly getting in the way, it can lead to burnout. Thankfully, there are plenty of people to lean on such as family, teammates, coaches and trusted mentors who can help alleviate the stress and help create a way to juggle all of the activities at hand.

Beyond this, it is important to remember why you started playing or why you love the sport. By understanding the motivation behind playing in the first place, you can rest on this reason when the schedule feels like more than you can handle. You can then use the motivation to set goals, and as you accomplish these goals, you can also remember what is motivating you to continue reaching them. Let your only expectations be the ones that you make for yourself.

In addition to remembering your original motivation, it is a good idea to keep things interesting in your training. Trying new techniques, drills or workouts can bring variety to your schedule and give you an exciting new element. Try a new environment or scenery to change things up, too. This will help break the monotony of practice and training while also challenging you in new ways.

If you need to step away to take a break, this can be beneficial as well. Taking breaks allows our bodies to recover and remember why we love the sport. It gives us perspective and time to refocus. There is no shame in taking time off; you can come back rejuvenated and fueled to be better than before.

As you combat burnout at any stage of life, it comes down to ensuring that the sport is still bringing you happiness. The phrase, “do what you love,” usually pertains to jobs, but it is also relevant when it comes to sport. Play the sport because it is what you love and what makes you happy.