How to Recognize Burnout in Your Sport and Regain the Passion
Relighting the Flame After Burnout in Cycling
In June of 2016 I went on a road ride by myself and noticed a pleasant change: for the first time in a long time I enjoyed riding my bike. It wasn’t until this point that I realized that I had been ignoring my burnout for nearly two years. Accumulated bike-related mental and physical stress had led to a loss of motivation. In the previous two years I had returned to racing following an earlier Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and I had been riding well, winning regional races again. However, when I tried to jump back to national-caliber racing, I panicked and crashed. Although my body was not damaged very badly this time, my psyche was. Riding became a chore, something that I no longer enjoyed. I felt obliged to do it. No one else was telling me to go ride my bike but I still felt I was doing it even though I didn’t want to. I realize now that I feared that stopping riding would lead me to lose part of my identity as a cyclist. Finally after two years I felt my passion for bike riding return. The bike ride I took that day was rewarding to me both physically and mentally.
Placing the exact moment in time that I lost my passion for cycling is difficult. Maybe that has to do with the amount of injuries I have sustained from this sport over time. Cycling was literally ripping my body apart. When I recovered from my burnout it had been nearly two years since my last wreck. The wrecks not only had physical impact but a mental aspect that I had been overlooking.
Many athletes experience burnout at some point in their career. This can vary from very minor burnout like that often experienced at the end of a tough training or racing block. Recovering from such mild burnout requires a short rest or break. Other types may be harder to see as they build gradually over a longer period.
Allowing yourself to realize that you are experiencing burnout is a test of self awareness. It may be difficult to identify the source of burnout when so many factors affect your training and passion for your sport. Use the following guide to help uncover athlete burnout, then take advantage of the ideas on bouncing back and regaining passion.
You may be experiencing or about to experience burnout if:
- You are aware that there are stressors in your life affecting your inclination or time to train and race.
- You find excuses to delay, shorten or avoid training.
- You have experienced a recent or chronic injury that affected your performance.
- You are reaching the end of a season of intense training and racing.
- Your performance decreases.
- Training or racing no longer brings you joy and fulfillment.
- You feel like you’ve done all you can to improve, but your current ability doesn’t satisfy you.
What to Do Next if You Are Experiencing Burnout
If you are experiencing burnout…. What next? Recovering from burnout will require different strategies depending on the causes and severity, but it is possible. Here are some methods that helped me to bounce back:
- Acknowledge your burnout. (I am burned out!)
- Allow yourself to stop. Hang up the bike or running shoes for a time, and let them go unused.
- Set realistic expectations for your return to the sport. When you are ready, outline a doable path to success. For example, you might ride three days a week instead of your usual five to begin with. Your return should include decreased workout times and allow for plenty of recovery between training days.
- Be gentle with yourself. Feel and acknowledge the emotions that you may be experiencing. Try not to beat yourself up over them. Remember that although you may identify with your sport, you are more than your sport. If you feel that you are not able to do this by yourself, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a psychologist or counselor.
- Divert your focus onto other aspects of your life that have been placed on the back burner due to your sport. Catch up with your family and friends, take a class, or take your dog on walks, for example.
- Try new things. When I stopped cycling for a time, I trained for and raced a 50K running race. Your new thing doesn’t have to be physical or even mental. It could be something simply fun or educational.
For most athletes, sport is a hobby — something enjoyable to help oneself to escape and relax from the rigors and stresses of day-to-day life. When your sport is no longer playing that role, it’s time for some reassessment. Take a break. After a few weeks or months, you’ll either find your passion rekindled, or have enough distance to start deciding what to do next.
Coach Leia Tyrrell works with all levels of athletes, specializing in collegiate cyclists and those making the transition from cycling to multi-sport. She chronicled her return to riding after her traumatic brain injury in a previous article.