Updated: Apr 8, 2021
Psychological burnout is real, and honestly, you will not see this one coming. Your athlete's health and mental being will deteriorate silently until they have a breakdown. You'll then question yourself, how something like this could ever happen?!
I call this a "Swimming Killer" because this type of burnout will be problematic and irreversible. It occurs most frequently with athletes who are around 14 and over due to the excessive demands and pressure placed upon them.
Excessive demands and pressure placed on athletes leads to drop-out... this is unprecedented and alarming as most cases is due to PSYCHOLOGICAL BURNOUT!
Psychological burnout WILL push swimmers away FROM SWIMMING.
We all agree that swimming requires significant time and effort. We all agree that swimming training's structure tends to be repetitive. And, this can cause boredom. Comparing swimming with other sports, swimmers may receive less social aspect. We all know that our "swim season" can be exceptionally long without breaks. This will potentially lead your swimmers to have to endure particularly dull (boring) practice sessions.
Swimmers often retire well before reaching their physical and psychological peak.
In my opinion, this is extremely unfortunate. Imagine the unfulfilled potential that might have greatly benefitted both the swimmer and potentially the swim team. Right now, there is far too much talent leaving the sport at a young age, well before swimmers reach their peak.
Collectively, we need to try to put an end to this!
Burnout is not inevitable.
Understanding psychological burnout is crucial.
We must be able to identify what burnout looks like before we attempt to fix it.
There are some personality traits and warning signs that may predispose individuals to burnout.
Perfectionist: The perfectionist is generally an overachiever who sets exceptionally high, sometimes unrealistic, standards and has a solid need to control so that things will be done accurately.
Seeking approval: Swimmers who have a strong desire to be liked and admired are sensitive to constructive feedback and treat others much better than they treat themselves.
Unassertive: Individuals find it extremely hard to say no, rarely express negative feelings and if they do express them, feel very guilty about it.
Support your athletes before they reach an 'irreversible stage'
Physical: Athletes burnout state show physical signs such as fatigue, tension, irritability, a decrease in energy level, a decline in performance, a marked rise in sleep disturbances and an increased susceptibility to illness or injury.
Behavioural: Behaviourally, the individual who is depressed and lonely may have developed a negative attitude toward swimming and may show resentment toward her/his teammates or parents.
Cognitive symptoms: The cognitive symptoms are anxiety, boredom, perceived helplessness, perceived low accomplishments and lack of enjoyment. Some factors that lead to burnout include lack of learning and positive reinforcement from you or her/his parents.
The use of authoritarian coaching methods, being pushy, aggressive and dictatorial behaviour by a coach or parent tend to promote burnout.
How to prevent drop-out and burnout in our athletes?
Practising Goal Setting Sessions: Offset the learning curve's effect and clarify the athlete's performance expectations for you and the parents. In swimming, approximately 95% of the time is spent practising and only 5% competing. However, most people set goals only for competition.
Parent and Coach Relationship: Both parties need to recognise minor improvements and provide increased positive reinforcement. By changing simple methodologies and treating all athletes with individualised respect and honour, you can capture them back into the sport.
Feedback: Give them plenty of feedback.
Athlete's Voice: By allowing your athletes to have input into their training, you are automatically empowering them, give them opportunities to make their own decisions. Allow them to select their events for the swimming meet.
Specific Effort With Workouts (individualisation): Design workouts with variety and sessions that are attractive, which has plenty of depth, visualisations, analysis, peer coaching, peer feedback etc.
Be Knowledgeable: Don't let your swimmers be too demanding of themselves; encourage them to treat themselves the way they would treat their best friend.
Education and Learning: Your athletes must be exposed to new learning material to keep them intrigued about the sport. As older your athletes get learning becomes much less.
Burnout can also be avoided if the athlete knows she/he is going through psychological burnout. Therefore, you can guide them to seek out counselling, also help them; increasing self-awareness, developing assertiveness skills, and assisting in overall personal development.
An exemplary coach will have exemplary athletes.
Visual contributions by Patricia Navarro Ortega (super supportive swimming parent) and "PICTURE OF STRESS" by Mohammed Fadlalla (a dedicated swimmer). Thank you! #swimming