How to Avoid Burnout in Sports

Allison Lvovich, Staff Writer

Whether you love your sport or not, burnout is very real and isn’t so simple to avoid. Coming from someone who burnt out from tennis after playing for over 10 years, I constantly look back and wonder where I would be if I knew the future content of this article. It almost makes me wish I hadn’t stopped playing, because my desire to play at a Division 1 university was beyond palpable. I was in the best position; I had the financial support of my family, along with the emotional support of my friends and teammates, and incredible coaches who guided me for years. Unfortunately, it was simply another representation of the fact that things aren’t always what they seem. 

Regardless, I know many other athletes share the same goal of playing at a Division 1 school, and it’s truly a shame when many athletes with skyrocketing potential begin to get tired of their sport. If you’re afraid of burning out or feel like you’re on the verge of it, here are 5 connected ways to get you back to where you want to be.

1. Take More Breaks

According to the Hospital of Special Surgery (HSS), overtraining occurs when an athlete doesn’t adequately recover after repetitive intense training, and can include fatigue, declining performance and potential injury. This definition mainly refers to the physical effects of putting too much pressure on your body, but it could have the same detrimental effects on your mental health. 

In my experience, this was the #1 factor that contributed to my burning out. I played at a high-level tennis academy for over three years – I trained about four times a week there, and trained with my personal coach and my dad for the remaining two or three days. With all of this in mind, I was on court for around 15 hours a week give or take, disregarding possible tournaments and matches. I began to get tired of competitive tennis in February of 2020, and I officially left in March of 2020. As you can probably tell from my schedule, I didn’t have off-days very often. To this day, I still feel as though if I had taken more breaks to refresh my mind and body, I would’ve been in a completely different position. Half of the reason for my effort was due to the pressure from others to continue improving, and the other half was self-induced, which leads me to my next point: winning.

2. It’s Not All About Winning

While this might be the most cliché phrase anyone has ever heard, it’s much more apparent when you put the word “winning” into your own perspective. When I first joined the academy in 2017, I came with the goal of improving my ranking and beating others in tournaments. I had no idea about what exactly I was in for, and my March 2020 wake up call helped me finally realize that winning was just a bonus. The bonds I created with my coaches were unbreakable, and I credit much of my current character to them. 

I was so used to trying to win at everything in my tennis life, which caused it to transfer over to my normal daily life. Because of this, I constantly put an immense amount of pressure on myself to be better than everyone else, and my stress level was always through the roof. If my present self could tell my past self one thing, this would be it. If you want to avoid burnout, focus on improving and learning something new about yourself everyday rather than the thought of a trophy.  

3. Reflect on Your True Goals

It’s very easy to get caught up in the ambitious goals of playing in college or even professional leagues, so reflection is beyond necessary. With some reflection every once in a while, you may even realize new goals you want to reach or old goals that are no longer desirable. You can start by creating a list of short term goals and long term goals– check it off if the goal has been achieved, and cross it off if it’s no longer a goal. Doing this will help you constantly stay refreshed in your sport, without making drastic decisions impulsively. 

4. Work on Mental Strength Before Physical 

Speaking from experience, about half of what determines your success in a sport is your mentality. Especially in non-team sports, having a rock-solid mental game is both advantageous and necessary. I’ve won plenty of matches simply due to the fact that my mentality was stronger than my opponent’s, even being on the same technical level. However, when my mentality wasn’t at its peak, I felt an overwhelming amount of self-deprecation. This is also when I found my will to play to be at its very lowest. The best tennis players in the world do at least an hour of meditation a day, which is a simple solution for anyone feeling mentally drained. 

5. Try Different Programs

If you’re ever tired of anything, it usually means you’re bored of it in some way, shape, or form. If you’re bored, the easiest thing to do is to try something new. Much of the training process is repetitive and tedious, so it helps to introduce a new person, new workouts, or new drills into your routine. For example, if your practice involves a heavy emphasis on high-intensity workouts, try to work in some lighter exercises, such as 10 minutes of yoga, or 10 minutes of just stretching. 

With that being said, it’s going to be better in the long run if you avoid forcing a certain outcome. If you are truly no longer happy in your sport, it’s not burning out, it’s just growing and maturing. Growing apart from something you were so attached to can help you realize a new passion that you potentially did not expect. After I realized that I didn’t want to play any more tournaments, it led me to coaching which I appreciate so much more than I ever thought I could.