Tending the fire; Athlete burnout and the athletics administration response, Part 2

William Woods EDU

In a post last month, we began a series on athlete burnout and what it means for athletics administrators.

In an article from the NCAA, “The state of burnout is often regarded as the endpoint of this breakdown process and is characterized by the absence of motivation as well as complete mental and physical exhaustion.”

What can athletics administrators and leadership do about it?

In an article published in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine last year, researchers found that a proactive, and preventive organizational approach to enhancing emotional health and reducing psychological risks for injury can impact both organizational culture and task design and activity. This kind of proactive, top-down organizational understanding means establishing effecting coping mechanisms, properly identifying the perspectives of young athletes, and reducing risk of injury.

Here are a few ways athletics administrators can build this kind of proactive, organizational approach:

Educate coaches, trainers, and strength staff about the signs and symptoms of burnout.

One study, into the coaches’ points of view, identified four primary dimensions or defining signs and symptoms of burnout: symptoms reflecting withdrawal, a reduced sense of accomplishment, physical/psychological exhaustion, and devaluation of sport.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA, of which William Woods University is a member school, provides coaches, administrators, etc., with a comprehensive list of resources and solutions to making an athlete’s health a priority. (There is another one for mental health specifically.)

Provide student athletes with healthy outlets for stress, and ways to cope with a new increase in the level of competition and responsibilities they face.

Take a look at the William Woods University Student Athlete handbook. In it, the athletics department provides functional advice and tips for studying, getting involved in other fun activities and organizations, and more.

Allow athletes to rest and recover.

This can be hard for competitive athletes, and sometimes coaches too.

As Gretchen Reynolds New York Times article puts it, sometimes all your body needs is “rest, rest and more rest.”

“This prescription can be difficult for athletes to accept,” writes Reynolds. “Many of them will instead stubbornly try to train harder… But rest does allow the body to heal, in time. ‘The human body, no matter how strong and fit it is, must rest.’”

Encourage intrinsic motivation.

While external motivations drive us to do things based on external reward, intrinsic motivation refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards, such as the feeling after a good run or swim, satisfaction with feeling healthy, enjoyment of an activity or a love of learning. As opposed to winning, looking good, impressing others, etc., which are extrinsic.

The NCAA article notes that some potential interventions to help with burnout and improve athlete health may include “setting short-term goals to bolster motivation, incorporating fun activities into the rigors of training, and practicing stress-reduction techniques like meditation and visualization.”

Part 3 will focus on what athletic administrators can do for mindfulness, and how many are incorporating it into their athletes’ and coaches’ training.

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