Today’s Topic: Recognizing Overtraining & Avoiding Burnout
Hi Everyone. I’m coach Diana with Complete Performance Coaching. Today I’m going to be talking to you today about recognizing signs of overtraining and burnout and giving you tips on how to avoid those things. I know some of you are in season and some offseason, but I’ve actually heard from a lot of athletes about being tired and exhausted, and if they don’t have some recovery that could lead to eventually burning out. I want to talk about those two things.
If you think about overtraining first, it is a part of every sport and it’s really important. It’s something that actually allows athletes to push themselves past their limit and get to places they didn’t know they could go. That actually helps them improve and get better. So overtraining can be a very good thing.
The problem is when you overtrain for too long and you don’t have enough recovery time, it can be very detrimental to athletes. I call that overtraining with under recovery. What we really want to do is make sure that the athletes are getting enough recovery time.
Signs of Under Recovery
If you, as a parent or a coach, start recognizing that your child or your athlete is suddenly getting sick a lot, that’s one sign that they are overtraining and they’re not getting enough recovery time. What happens when you overtrain for too long is your immune system starts breaking down. Once your immune system starts breaking down, then you’re susceptible to a lot of things, sickness being one of them.
Another thing is you’ll start to see a lot of nagging injuries. This can be tendinitis, shin splints, bursitis, Chondromalacia, those kinds of things which are just overuse injuries. Those will start popping up a lot which can also be a sign that they’re overtraining and need some recovery time.
Coaches, that can be a really good time for you to back off a little bit on training. It may be best to even give them either a very light day, a couple days, or maybe even a day off that they don’t normally get when you start seeing these things come up. Just giving them a little bit of a break, rest and recovery, can do a lot for them physically.
Recovery Boosts Motivation
It can also do a lot for their motivation, too, because if they are feeling exhausted physically and/or psychologically, having a break from the coach where they don’t have to feel bad about not going to practice, there’s no guilt from them because it’s the coach that’s telling them to take a break, everybody gets a break. Then they get a little bit of relief. So many times, especially if they’re struggling with some motivation, having a just a day off can be huge in trying to get them remotivated again.
Those are a couple of things to think about for parents and for coaches. Pay attention to if they’re getting sick and if you’re seeing a lot of nagging injuries. If they are, it’s time for them to take a little bit of break, get some more rest.
Hitting a Plateau
Overtraining is part of sports, but you also see sometimes with athletes when they have hit a plateau in their training so they’re not seeing any gains. This is when they start to think, “Well, if I just work out a little bit harder, if I practice hard, and if I do more then I will start seeing more gains again.”
This is when athletes can, on their own, start to overtrain thinking that they’re going to see gains. Sometimes they will, but if they don’t, if they are working out harder and they’re still not seeing gains and they’ve reached this point of staleness, that’s one of the signs that they are approaching burnout.
That’s another warning sign for parents and for coaches. When you think about burnout, the definition is that it’s an exhaustive psychological response to frequent, extreme, and generally ineffective efforts to meet excessive training demands. So when you think about burnout, it’s really exhaustion, psychological exhaustion, that we want athletes to avoid before they ever get there.
Some warning signs for burnout are fatigue, changes in eating habits, and changes in sleeping habits. If they’re reaching burnout, then the child wants to miss practice. They might start making up injuries. They also might start isolating themselves from their teammates or their friends that are in their sport because they’re really tired of it.
Catching Burnout Early
If you catch these things before they get too far into it, then it doesn’t take much to bring them out of burnout. The biggest thing is they need time off. If you catch it early enough, it might mean a couple of practices. If not, it might mean a couple of weeks, a couple of months, or it might mean even longer than that, and they might. When they get so burned out and stay in that state for too long, they may stop the sport and never come back. Obviously, we want to avoid that. If an athlete stops doing their sport, we want them to end on a high note.
Decide it’s Time for a Break
It is certainly important to pay attention to all the signs and symptoms that come along the way. When they’re approaching that staleness, that’s a time when you really want to pay attention to it and say, “Okay, let’s take a break. Just take a practice off or something.”
Too Much Effort
I like to use the example of swimming. When we’re swimming in a pool and you’re doing all the different strokes, it can be challenging, but we all know how it feels to move through water. If you’re reaching staleness or the beginning stages of burnout, instead of feeling like you’re swimming through water, it’s going to feel like you’re swimming through a pool of peanut butter, and that is going to make it so much harder, right? Every move you make is going to take so much more effort.
So whatever sport your child is in, if they feel like it’s so much effort, it’s taking too much effort to go to practice and to get through practice, they might be hitting that beginning stages of burnout.
So how do you avoid this before you actually get there? Certainly paying attention to signs of overtraining to make sure that they get enough recovery time is one thing. Another thing is practice times throughout the week. Say your child practices five, six days a week. If they have one day of practice off, they need to be doing nothing related to their sport. They should be spending time with their friends, watching a movie, maybe doing homework, taking a nap or playing with their dog, spending time with their family. They should be doing anything they can other than sport related stuff because they need a break.
If they do that every week and feel like they get to do fun things on their day off, then they’re less likely to reach burnout. I know a lot of gymnasts, in particular, take private lessons on their days off. I don’t really recommend that, but if that’s the only time that they can do a private lesson, then have that be the one thing that they’re doing with gymnastics on that day.
Burnout During Competition Season
I think it’s important to recognize that in competition season they might not practice quite as much. Sometimes they practice just as hard, but then they go away for the weekend and they have a meet. Well, competitions, whether it’s gymnastics or any sport, are very taxing on athletes. They’re physically demanding, but they are also psychologically demanding.
If you think about gymnastics, a female gymnast has to be up for four events, males, six events. In other sports, whether it’s a tournament that you’re playing in where you’re doing multiple games, martial arts has multiple matches, figure skating, they often are doing short programs, long programs, etc. You have to be on it for that whole time. When athletes are working through any fears outside of just performance anxiety, this can really tire them out. Now they’re working through fears and tackling these big things and by the end of it all, they are emotionally drained. To then turn around and go back to a hard practice on Monday might not be the smartest thing.
Coaches, I would really encourage you to maybe have the practice after a big competition be a light day. They come in, they stretch, and maybe they do something fun, totally non-gymnastics related. I know we used to play wiffle ball sometimes in the gym and it was great because it avoided that burnout. It also gave us a little bit of break so we didn’t have to overtrain without recovery time. By coming in and stretching, they don’t miss out on some of the important parts of gymnastics or sports in general. Having a lighter day after a big petition or any competition is a really smart thing.
Parents, if you see that your athlete is starting to get sick or coming down with a cold, you might just hold them back that day just to give them a little bit of time to recover so they don’t end up getting sick and they don’t feel tired.
Loss of Focus
Another thing that happens with overtraining, because athletes are tired psychologically and physically, they start to lose their focus. This increases their risk for injury, and we obviously don’t want to do that. This is another reason to pay attention and take a step back.
I had a gymnast that I saw not too long ago that told me, “You know, I’ve been crying a lot lately. I don’t even know why I do something. I’ll cry when I’m not hurt, and I’m not really scared of it.”
When you go through it all, the skills that she was doing required a lot of mental effort on her part. Some of them were skills she’s been scared of that she’s working through, but they all require effort. I think for her, she reached a point of exhaustion. She’s not burned out, but she needs to take a little bit of time because a pin drops and she cries at everything.
So pay attention to sicknesses, neck injuries, certainly, if your child is complaining about feeling like it takes so much more effort and it used to not take so much effort, those are signs that they’re overtraining and not getting enough recovery. Maybe it’s staleness, and that leads to burnout, which we want to avoid.
Those are some, some tips and things to pay attention to. Please, if you have any questions, send me an email at Diana@completecperformancecoaching.com and I will be happy to try to answer them. Thanks so much. Happy holidays.