The Truth About Taking Time off Sports

“Physiologically, you may be fine but mentally fatigued athletes find the same task much more effortful.” - Dr. Samuel Marcora 

Playing sports does not make athletes immune to mental health challenges. Among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety. And it’s not only elite athletes - results show that among young people aged 15-24, 26% reported having a long-term mental or behavioural condition (according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). 

Burnout is one of the contributors to mental health challenges. 

Professionals in sport psychology define burnout as, “physical/emotional exhaustion, sport devaluation, and reduced athletic accomplishment.” Simply put, burnout is when an athlete experiences overwhelming exhaustion from training and competition, resents or completely loses interest in the game, and experiences lower achievement than previously demonstrated.

There are many different factors associated with burnout which can include, but are not limited to: 

  • Overtraining 

  • Athlete’s personality factors (e.g. perfectionism/high expectations) 

  • Focusing on outcome (i.e. winning) 

  • Specialisation in a single sport at a young age

  • Neglect of proper rest

  • Expectations of coaches, parents, teammates, etc. 

And when do you know when to step back from your sport? Here are a few physical, behavioural and emotional symptoms of burnout:  

  • Constant fatigue (even after a full night of rest)

  • Decreased energy level

  • Inability to focus

  • Inconsistent performances

  • Decreased confidence 

  • Expression of the desire to quit 

  • Increased level of injury or illness

  • Lack of enthusiasm or enjoyment from practice or competition

It can seem like you’re lazy and uncommitted but it’s essential to give your body and mind a break from sports. This will allow you to become refreshed and energised. 

Some techniques and strategies to overcome burnout include: 

  • Setting short-term goals 

  • Taking care of yourself physically

  • Reflect on yourself and your sport 

  • Take time away from sport 

  • Relax as best as you can

Taking time out from sport is not uncommon. Take Pro golfer Matthew Wolff, ranked No 35 in the world, for example. He withdrew from the Open Championship in England in July to protect his mental health. He also took a two month break citing burnout as the main reason.

“Burnout is not the result of doing too much; it is the result of not getting enough rest.” 

So, if you are feeling like you need a break; you’re not motivated to practice and have constant fatigue, consider taking a short time away from sports. Preventing burnout as early as possible will help you overcome burnout in the long run. With overextension, little aches or nags can quickly turn into full-blown injuries if you’re not careful. Your body can only work at high intensity for so long until something is pushed over its limit, resulting in injury. Taking time off provides an opportunity for sore, stiff, and likely micro-torn muscles to heal. In fact, you’ll come back refreshed and stronger than ever.


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