A great coach can’t always prevent burnout, but she can learn to diagnose it in her team and stop it before it derails the season. (Looking for how to address burnout in you as a coach? Check this out).
As a coach, we’ve all been there. You’ve been training your routine for months, football season is over and it’s time to turn things up a notch and get ready for competition season. For me, there were years where this transition went smoothly, the dancers were ready for the increased practices, motivated each other to keep fighting, and we had a great competitive season. Unfortunately, that’s not the norm.
Imagine this: you’ve been working on a difficult turn section since you started choreography over the summer. For months your team continues to improve until one day, usually right before your first competition, it all of a sudden falls apart. Or maybe you’ve seen it hit 100 times over the season, but now you’re in the final stretch to prepare for nationals and it’s just not happening. Believe me, I KNOW how frustrating this can be! The natural inclination as a coach is to increase practices, increase your demands and structure, and keep drilling it until you are all confident it will happen. However, I’m here to tell you there may be another reason for the change, and a very different way to handle the situation. Your athletes may be BURNT OUT!
Know the Symptoms of Burnout
Burnout is not just a lack of motivation. While that’s a big part of it, it’s really so much more and not everyone experiences burnout in the same way. Look for these signs in your athletes:
Physical symptoms of Burnout
- A decrease in strength/coordination
- Greater susceptibility to illness
Mental symptoms of Burnout
- Decrease in concentration
- Loss of motivation
- Increase anxiety and agitation
- A decrease in self-confidence
Behavioral symptoms of Burnout
- Giving up
- Decreased ability
- Interpersonal difficulties
- Decreased academic performance
So that captain who is always rude at practice, or the dancer who just keeps getting hurt at the wrong times, or the one who used to be able to complete that killer turn section but now she never can… they may all be experiencing burnout.
As a coach, it’s important to know where burnout comes from, because you may be unintentionally increasing the chance it will happen!
What are the Sources of Burnout?
There are 3 main sources of burnout, and people can experience more than one symptom from more than one source.
- A Demanding Situation: athletes may feel a lack of control, high expectations (from coaches, peers, or parents), low social support, excessive demands on their time, negative parent involvement, or an intense training load.
- Negative Thoughts: different people think about the same situation in unique ways. If an athlete perceives they have few meaningful accomplishments (like they are never recognized for improved skills), a lack of enjoyment, chronic stress, or emotional withdrawal, they can feel burnt out.
- Motivational factors: some athletes have chronic low self-esteem, a fear of failure, are highly self-critical, have a high need to please others, or are naturally a perfectionist.
So What is a Coach to do?
First and foremost get to know your athletes and try to recognize the symptoms for what they are. So when you’re drilling a skill and an athlete gives up, don’t immediately jump on her about it. That will just add a lack of social support and probably decrease her already fragile self-esteem. Or maybe she’s got great self-esteem and is just being highly self-critical. You may need to actually help her get out of her own way and yelling at her for her failures or making her do it over and over again will only make it worse. Bottom line, you have to know your individual athletes so you can recognize their symptoms and try to understand what’s going on in their head that’s leading to their feelings of burnout. You are a great source of support!
Steps to Address Burnout:
- If you think an athlete is burnt out, ask them to stay after practice one day and talk to you so you can get to the bottom of what they’re going through. Try to understand the source of their burnout, it may not be what you’re thinking! Plus, just being heard and acknowledged can go a long way.
- For your whole team, schedule rest time! I know competition season is intense, but one of the best things you can do is schedule breaks from practice in general and from repetitive movements that cause strain on the body. Work hard play hard!
- Along with taking breaks, incorporate fun into practice with some team-building games. Just taking 10 minutes at the end of practice to play a silly game, or some quiet reflection time can do wonders to reset a negative spiral heading towards burnout.
- Teach stress management techniques throughout the year such as deep breathing, imagery, or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Try to address it before it gets out of control. You never want someone to be in the depths of burnout right before a major competition, and often the signs are there long before, you may have just missed them. So keep an eye on your team and look for small signs you can address easily, and plan for those breaks and fun time before your team can ask.
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