Causes of burn out (Part 2)

In our previous issue we took a look at symptoms which might indicate an athlete is suffering from burn out. In part two of this article, we examine the causes of sports burn out.

By Dr. Alan Goldberg


NOT ENOUGH REST – The main cause of burnout is very simple and basic: NOT ENOUGH REST. When you over-work physically and do not allow your body and mind an adequate chance to “chill” and recover, then you will be embarking down the road to burn out. If you have any desire to reach your athletic goals, then rest has to become part of your regular training regime. Allowing your body and mind a chance to recharge will keep your motivation and energy to train high. It will keep you fresh and excited about your sport and goals. It will allow your body to physically recover so that you stay strong and healthy. Rest should never be something that you occasionally do. It must be built in to your weekly and monthly workouts. It is not separate from training. It is an integral part of training.

TOO MUCH PRESSURE – Another element that fuels burnout is too much competitive pressure. There’s no question that competition is good for you and will make you a better athlete. The same can be said for having to deal with the pressure that comes with this competition. However, if you are constantly under extreme competitive pressure from either yourself, your coaches or parents, if you never get a chance to relax and let down, then sooner or later that pressure will drain the enjoyment out of your sport and you will begin to burn out. Too much pressure makes what you’re doing too serious. When things get too serious for you, you will lose your perspective and stop having fun. Once the fun leaves your sport it will take your desire and intensity with it and when that happens, you are well on your way to being cooked.

TYING YOUR SELF-WORTH TO YOUR PERFORMANCE- Related to #2, one mental mistake athletes (coaches and parents) frequently make is to tie their self-worth to their athletic performances. That is, if you perform well, you’re a worthwhile person and if you fail, then you are worthless. When you put your ego on the line like this you not only set yourself up to fail, but you also make it more likely that you will eventually burn out. If your ego is at stake every time you step on the court, field or track, then chances are good that the intense pressure experienced from doing this will ultimately erode your enjoyment of the sport, wreck your performance and lead you to burning out.

If you want to avoid burnout as an athlete, then you have to understand the need for balance in your sport. You can’t simply put yourself on automatic and train hard all the time, 24/7. Operating on this “more is better” principle will eventually wear you down both physically and mentally. What this means is that you need to slow down a little in your pursuit of your goals by adding regular periods of rest or time completely away from training. Driving yourself non-stop as if you’re under a time deadline will not get you to your goals any faster. In fact, pushing yourself in this way will actually slow you down in your pursuit of your dreams. If you’re out of balance you will be more likely to injure yourself and this will really throw off your training schedule. Don’t ever think that you can’t afford to take time off to rest. The fact of the matter is that you can’t afford NOT to take time off.

Remember, if you want to become a champion and avoid burnout, sometimes LESS IS MORE. The rule of thumb is very simple here: GO SLOWER, ARRIVE SOONER.

Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is

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