Q&A with Coach Rebecca – Avoiding burnout

Today’s Topic: Avoiding end-of-season burnout

Hi everybody! I’m Coach Rebecca, and this is Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I’m live answering questions from members of the PerformHappy community and anybody who shows up live if we have a chance, and then if you sent me an email, hopefully I can get to those too. I am really going to focus on one question I got this week that I’ve been hearing over and over. This is the end of the season for a lot of gymnasts (although it’s always the beginning of somebody’s season). But usually at the end of any season, burnout happens. Burnout seems to take over and make things not feel so fun.  

About me

I’m Rebecca Smith. I’m a high performance coach, and I specialize in working with young athletes. That’s kids age 8 to 18 who need to perform under pressure. I mostly help people with scary stuff, like gymnastics and ice skating and diving. I like to help kids unravel the fear and get through performance anxiety, but then also build confidence and find flow. Flow is my ultimate passion: helping kids tap into that part of them that just takes it away. They drop in to flow and all of their training clicks in.  Their brain turns off  And they become the very best version of themselves. That’s what I want kids to have as much as possible. Adults too, of course, but kids are my passion. I was a gymnast, and I had a lot of fear issues, so of course it’s my passion to make sure that I help kids overcome that stuff.   So, to our question. A mom asks,

Q: “I have a young gymnast who’s very talented and doing great skills-wise. This is the second April in a row where she has an almost burned out attitude. Not sure if she should keep going or quit. Last year, we got over this hurdle and she went on to have a great year. As we were in the midst of it again, I would love advice on how to keep your child motivated to continue a sport they seem to love during times they are down or tired.”

A:

I have actually gotten multiple emails over the last week or two of parents asking, “do we keep going?” This happens every year where by the end of the season, they’re kind of upset, they’re not reaching their goals, and they are on the verge of burnout, and they wonder, “should we keep doing this?” They love it. They’re really good at it. But it’s not worth this stress.  

Passion

There are two types of passion:

  • One of those types gets you in the flow. It gets you feeling great. You become immersed in your sport. It gets you on fire to train and do what you love.
  • Then there’s another kind of passion that sucks the joy out of it and leads to burnout.

I’ll go over those two types, how to figure out which type your child is in or which type you’re in, and then how to get in the right kind of passion.  

Harmonious passion

The first type of passion I’ll talk about is called harmonious passion. This is the true self. This is the part of you that’s determined and motivated. I think the mom that asked this question, that’s what she wants for her kid is, it’s not just any passion, but it’s that motivated, excited, happy passion that keeps you moving, that keeps you excited to show up and keep training. Some qualities of this harmonious passion are:

  • She freely accepts that this activity’s important for her. She’s the first one to say, “Gymnastics is important for me, and I choose it that way.” It’s a source of pleasure.
  • She has positive emotional experiences often where she works hard and does something well or knows she’s on the right track.
  • She’s a little bit flexible. She’s got concentration, good attitude, and if something doesn’t go her way, she can kind of cope. She can work around it and try something else and not give up hope. Flexibility is a big part of that harmonious passion that, it’s like “I love gymnastics, and if I can’t do it this way, I’ll do it this way, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try this,” instead of like “It didn’t work. Arg. I’m out of here.”

She’s got to feel like she’s in control of the activity. She has to feel like she’s got some say. For coaches for asking her to do something that she doesn’t feel comfortable doing, she has to feel like she’s got control to actually say, “Hey coach, what do you think about this? What if we tried that?” She’s gotta feel like there’s some level of control. Typically, there are positive feelings that increase as the season progresses when you are in harmonious passion. That is the type of passion that makes life worth living where you just want to do some more because it’s great, because you love it.    

Obsessive passion

Now, this one, instead of being driven by your authentic self, it’s driven by your ego. It’s driven by that part of you that wants to look good and be liked and win and have everybody look up to you. It’s that part that’s kind of like that external, the shell of you. Harmonious passion is what’s in your heart. Obsessive passion is like “I gotta look good. I gotta be good. I have to be good. Everyone’s gotta be happy with me. I have to make everybody happy.”  Obsessive passion can lead to burnout. This comes from pressure. It comes from outcome goals like:

  • “I gotta get this skill by this day. I gotta win this meet and qualify. Or get this score,” which I know, that’s how people in the United States and probably beyond are … That’s how they’re trained.
  • Get this score. Go to this meet. Qualify here. It’s a lot of outcome-type stuff that gets people into this obsessive passion where basically their social acceptance and self-esteem are tied up in it.
  • If you don’t get to go to that meet, you don’t get on the plane, then you are left out, or if you don’t qualify to that and everybody else does, you’re not good. You are not accepted. You shouldn’t feel good about yourself.

It’s all these messages that you get when you’re in that type of passion where you’re like “I have to get on that plane.” It’s almost like this fear-driven passion instead of like “I gotta do some good sports because that’s what I like to do.”  

They have a choice

In this obsessive passion state, they like the activity but feel like they don’t have a choice. Like “I have to. I have to do this sport. No. I mean, I have to. It’s what I do. It’s who I am. I have to do it.” Whereas if you’re in harmonious passion, it’s more like “I choose to do this. Yeah, it’s difficult. Yeah, I have rough days, but ultimately, I choose to be here.” When a kid feels like they don’t have a choice, and it’s not always because the parents says, no you have to do it. You have to get a scholarship. You know, I know most parents are not actually like that. It’s because the kid feels like they have to prove something, or I’ve done it for so long, I don’t know what else I couple possible do, or I don’t want to let people down.  

Obsessive passion causes conflict

More aspects of the obsessive passion are that it causes conflict with other activities in your child’s life, like if your kid feels like they can’t be in the school play because they have to practice, versus “Hey, I’m choosing to go to the gym instead of doing the school play.” They go, “Well, I can’t do the school play because I have to go to practice.” It’s as much as … It’s just a little switch of perspective. If you’re in that “have to” place, you’re probably in obsessive passion instead of that “choose to, want to.” That feels like the activity’s in control of you. If your sport, you have to do it, that’s not the vibe that’s actually going to unlock your flow. It’s that choosing to, autonomously. I showed up here, and I decided this, and therefore, I’m going to take responsibility for that choice by applying myself in a certain way, versus, I have to be here so I can walk around and be pouting if I want because I didn’t have a choice.  

Obsessive passions brings negative feelings and stress

Now in that, in the obsessive passion, negative feelings tend to increase as the season progresses. By the end of the season, you’ve got this big old stress ball who feels like they have to, and they fell short of their expectations because they didn’t necessarily reach their ego-fueled goals, and then you’ve got like 11, 12, 13 year old ball of stress disaster that you’re like, what do I do with this kid? She’s not happy. We’re doing this so she could be happy and she’s not happy. A lot of that is because of the type of passion that they’re run by because let’s face it, anybody who’s training 15+ hours a week, they’ve got some sort of passion driving them but what we want them to have is this harmonious type. Some people think that the obsessive passion is really helpful, and coaches are like, “I want them to be focused. I want them to feel like no, I can’t do that other activity. I’ve got to be here.” But the trouble with that is that it actually creates this horribly focused on outcomes type of kid who’s stressed out, tense, and makes mistakes, versus, encouraging them to have their own choice in the matter. It can give them ability to show up for themselves and to benefit for themselves instead of that whole “I gotta look good and what about my friends and what will my coaches think.” So this can also lead to tension and actually more likelihood of injury when an athlete is in this obsessive state.  

Whether or not you’re in obsessive passion

Here are some warning signs that your athlete is in obsessive passion or that you’re in obsessive passion.

  • You feel like you are physically and emotionally exhausted, like you’re totally running out of gas. If you think about your life as like a pie, how big of a slice is your activity or your sport? It shouldn’t be the whole thing. I know that’s hard to say because some of you guys listening are elite and world class athletes and world class coaches, it’s easy to say, “Well actually no, gymnastics is my whole pie.” Well, you do want to want to have other stuff in there. You know, friends, critical, especially in that 12 to 14, 15 age, if you don’t have solid social connections, it’s going to be very difficult to get yourself in harmony. You want to have school in there, obviously, so make sure that your sport isn’t too much of your pie that you’re not able to function otherwise.World class parent. Of course there are definitely world class parents in attendance. That’s why you’re here, because you care.
  • Negative self-image, so just seeing themselves poorly. “I failed. I’m not doing well. Nobody’s … ” Just seeing themselves in a really negative light. Also negative inner dialogue, so that’s going back to that “I have to, I should, I need to, I should have, I must, I gotta go, I just gotta, gotta go.” That’s the obsessive mind, where what we want it to be is “I want to, I get to. I can’t wait to. I’m excited to. I’m going to give it a good try. I can’t wait to get in and give it a shot.” That’s very different so if your kid is really stuck in that have to, should, need, arg! Then that’s the obsessive. That’s the kind that really fires you up in the wrong way. Although it seems like they’re really focused, it’s firing them up in the wrong way.
  • They have a compulsion to want to practice all the time. Even if they’re kind of miserable, they’re like, “I have to do this because I have to get it,” it’s that same kind of flustered energy. They’re not seeing the results that they want, and it’s having a huge impact on self-esteem. Also, if they’re not seeing flow, so that flow experience of just going and having a really solid routine or a really good practice.
  • Mood swings, irritation, depression, frustration, I know this is teenager stuff so there’s always that, but being kind of in the mood swing, that can indicate that there’s more of this obsession.

 

How do you increase harmonious passion?

That’s what we want, right? For you diehards, I’m not sure you’re going to like this, but I’ll give it to you anyway. You guys take it for what it is. If something resonates, take it.

1. Schedule in breaks

Now, this doesn’t mean take six months off or even take a week off. This means take a Sunday where you’re not going to do homework and you’re not going to train, and you’re not going to stretch, and you’re not going to think about it, and you’re just going to go to the movies with your friends. Start a hobby. Anything, like knitting, art, something that allows a little piece of your pie to go elsewhere.

2. Take the pressure off

Maybe it’s dropping the difficulty for one competition or just taking it off.  Calm down the rush a little bit.

3. Self-care

A lot of the time, these obsessive passionate types will continue to train on injured body parts.  You’ve got to give ample time to rest. I know a lot of coaches are like, “Are you okay?” And the kid’s like, “Yep, I’m okay,” but they’re not okay. For those of you athletes listening, if you’re not okay, you gotta scale it back. It’s part of the deal, otherwise you’re going to be in that obsessive mode, like “Well, I have to train, I have to train.” No, actually, you gotta rest. You gotta recover because that’s part of your training.

4. Leave your sport in the gym

Leave it on the field. Leave it on the court. When you walk out, leave it there. Don’t bring it home with you. Obviously parents are going to say, “How did it go?” and you can answer them. But then just be done with it until you go back. See if you can leave it there. Let it just be there, and when you get there you can be excited to get back to it, it’s not consuming your mind at all times.  

Change your negative thoughts into positive ones

The goal is to change your negative thoughts into positive ones, changing your negative inner dialogue to a positive one. Instead of waking up going, “I have to do that skill today, and I’m terrified,” you wake up and go, “Yay, it’s practice day.” That’s what we want, and you might have to actually fake it until you make it a little bit. “Yay, I can’t wait to get there and try this. Here’s my goal for the week, I really hope I get it.” But it’s not a goal of “I hope I beat little Susie to getting the back walkover,” it’s “I hope that today I can do a little better than yesterday on this one thing. I hope I can reach my personal best here.” You’ve got an intention driving you, and you get to have something to be excited about. Changing your thoughts. If you can get your thoughts to change from “Ugh, I don’t want to, it’s too hard,” or even “I have to. I have to,” to “I get to. It’s okay,” and really being able to be flexible with it. That will change your self-esteem, and it will change basically every aspect of your life. If you can get more harmonious passion in your training, you will have more in your life.  

You always have a choice

I talk a lot about filling your tank, especially in the Overcoming Fear course in the PerformHappy community.  There’s a whole session on filling your tank, and that’s your heart. If your heart is on empty and you are depleted, you can’t push through fear.   You can’t get motivated.  You can’t get excited.  You can’t really be happy in any area of your life.  So I talk a lot about ways that you can fill your tank and get yourself back up to that place where you feel okay. Something critical is to always remember you have a choice. You have a choice. And kids, maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re in a place where you don’t, where your coach is requiring certain things of you or your parent is like, “No, you’re not quitting.” But there’s gotta be a choice in order to get into that place where you can be really from a core level motivated, you have to have a choice. That’s a conversation that you’ll want to have with your kid.

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • What’s your choice?
  • Do you choose to be here?

 

When you don’t have a choice

That reminds me of my first year in college, my mom was like, “You’re going to college. You have no choice. You’re going to college.” I went, and I screwed up, and it was a horrible year, and I made a lot of mistakes because I didn’t want to be there for me. I wanted to be there because she told me I had to be there. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, and vaguely had this idea that I wanted to do psychology because I wanted to do sport psychology, but it was like I didn’t like the whole experience because it wasn’t my choice. In turn I wasn’t motivated, and I didn’t do well. Then, a few years later, I actually went back when I knew, okay, this is my dream career. This is what I’ve gotta do. I have a lot of schooling ahead of me. I said, “Hey dad, will you pay for college,” and he said, “Nope. Figure it out,” and I was like, “All right, I will,” and I did. That got me to this place where I got straight As and everything got turned in, and I sat in the front, and I raised my hand because it was something that I chose. I actively chose to be there. If your kid is not making the choice to be there, it’s a lot harder to get motivated. Sometimes it takes a little break and a little revaluation to go, “You know what? Actually, I love it, and I want to go back to it.” I’ve known two really phenomenal gymnasts who actually took time off. One of them took, I think a year, one of them took six months. Not that I’m necessarily advocating that, but they came back by choice, and they’ve become really fantastic gymnasts.  

Practice mindfulness

Another thing that helps you tap into harmonious passion is practicing mindfulness.  We’re working on this  right now in the PerformHappy community. We do live training sessions every Wednesday night, and our topic these last couple weeks has been mindfulness… This practice allows you to get to that place where everything’s okay. No matter what comes at you, you’re like, “All right. What’s next?” And you don’t get rattled.  You let things roll off your back.  

Self-compassion

The final thing that I want you guys to look into (if this resonates) is the idea of self-compassion. A lot of times with clients, I’ll actually ask them, “How would you talk to a younger teammate who was in your shoes?” They would go, “it’s okay honey, just try it again.” How do you say it to yourself? “You’re terrible. You’re awful. You’re never going to get better.” The way that we talk ourselves can be so ugly. Some therapists and psychologists talk about the inner child. I carry around my little five year old and go, “Oh, honey, it’s okay, don’t worry about that.” Something like that.  When you’re struggling, do your best to you talk to yourself like you would talk to a younger teammate. If you can get into that habit, it can really start to help you out.   If you guys have any questions, please send them my way at rebecca@performhappy.com. If you want to join us for our weekly trainings on finding flow, building confidence, overcoming fear, you can go to performhappy.com and sign up and join us, and I will be back here next week answering your questions. See you soon!

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