Updated: May 30
I'm excited to chat with you today about burnout, what it really means, the symptoms to keep an eye out for, and most importantly, how to avoid it. This is a topic that hits close to home for me, as I experienced burnout myself back in December. I was juggling the demands of finishing graduate school, working as a psychotherapist intern at a university, and being a mother to six sensational children. It's ironic, but even as someone working in the mental health field, I still struggled to find balance and take care of myself. As an athlete, I retired from sport decades ago, but it's not so easy to retire from the athlete mindset and the constant grind.
So, what is burnout? Simply put, burnout is the feeling of being mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted as a result of prolonged stress. For swimmers, this can happen when they feel overwhelmed by the constant demands of training and competition. It can also occur when they start to lose motivation and passion for the sport. Furthermore, we also have some swim parents and coaches who are absolutely burnout.
The 2021 Tokyo Olympics were a great reminder that even the most elite athletes can struggle with mental health issues and burnout. One high-profile example of this was American swimmer Simone Manuel, who withdrew from multiple events at the games due to mental and physical exhaustion.
Despite being one of the best swimmers in the world, she recognized that she needed to take a step back in order to prioritize her health and well-being. In a statement to the press, Simone said, "I need to take care of myself right now. This is hard to talk about, but the Olympics are not the end-all, be-all. My mental and physical health are more important than medals."
Simone's decision to prioritize her mental health is a powerful reminder that athletes, regardless of their level of success, are still human beings who need to take care of themselves.
Manuel is not the only athlete who has had to withdraw from international competitions due to mental and physical health concerns. 7-Time Gold Medalist, Caeleb Dressel, recently announced his withdrawal from the 2022 World Championships in Budapest. As someone who has witnessed and experienced both mental and physical burnout, I know firsthand that sometimes hitting the wall means you simply can't push through it.
This raises an important question: why does our sports community often view taking breaks as a sign of weakness? I believe that many swimmers who have experienced burnout would likely have recognized the need for a mental and physical break long before reaching a breaking point, but the pressure to keep pushing can be overwhelming.
Admittedly, it's not always feasible for us to completely check out and take extended time off. Instead, as athletes, parents, and coaches, we can learn the value of taking micro-breaks. It's about finding small moments to step away from the constant pressure and demands of our sport or role. Maybe it's skipping a morning practice once in a while, or deciding not to time every meet your swimmer competes in. Coaches, it's okay to find a substitute to run practice every once in a while. Truthfully, we just need to give each other permission to take a break.
The key is to prioritize our mental and emotional well-being and find a healthy balance. Sometimes that may mean making a tough choice, like skipping a swim meet to attend a senior school dance. It's important to remember that the ultimate goal is to cultivate a routine that keeps us motivated and eager to return to the water.
Again, burnout is a real issue that can affect even the most dedicated swimmers, parents and coaches. But by taking proactive steps to avoid it, you can help your young athlete continue to enjoy the sport they love without sacrificing their mental and physical health. Keep these tips in mind and remember, sometimes the best thing a swimmer can do is just take a deep breath and relax. The key to life and a life-long love for swimming is to learn to take breaks along the way.