Understanding burnout helps adolescent athletes
According to Alan Smith, a Purdue health and kinesiology expert on adolescents, the term "burnout" is often misused and overused in the athletic community. Research has established that athlete burnout consists of three components:
Emotional and physical exhaustion.
A reduced sense of personal accomplishment.
"Social relationships may contribute to burnout," said Smith, who focuses on how peer relationships affect adolescent athletes. "Burnout is about more than just training volume."
Burnout is thought to be most prevalent in demanding sports such as swimming that involve extensive training over a long period of time. Smith's recent research focused on the qualities of the swimming environment that contribute to or prevent burnout. These qualities include enjoyment, stress, social support, and coping skills. A variety of strategies can be used to help swimmers reduce stress while enhancing their ability to cope with stress, develop satisfying social support networks, and enjoy the swimming experience. Specific suggestions for coaches include:
- Maintain a skill/challenge balance. Enjoyment and motivationn are maximized when athletes feel that they are challenged, but at the same time have the skills and abilities to meet those challenges.
- Use goal setting effectively. Goal setting can raise motivation and build confidence. Short-term goals that are realistically challenging and based on personal standards of excellence help athletes feel successful. When swimmers are showing slow improvement or facing a plateau, process goals can emphasize behaviors or actions a swimmer must have to perofrm well.
- Educate parents and athletes about what to expect from training. Educating parents and athletes about what swimmers may experience in training, ranging from the early maturer to the late maturer, can help reduce stress. Also, knowledge of what can be expected during different parts of the training cycle can help. It is natural to feel fatigued during heavy training periods!
- Help swimmers develop social support networks. Parents need to understand the fine line that exists between being supportive and pressuring. Coaches can help develop social support networks by occasionally including fun-oriented activities at practice and promoting team cohesion.
- Help swimmers develop well-rounded identities. A singular focus on swimming can backfire in the long run by creating an emotional roller coaster — they feel great when they succeed, but have a difficult time coping with performance setbacks or plateaus.