One benefit of most smaller Christian schools is that they afford more opportunities for students than a large school would. Academic, athletic, leadership, and social activities are available, and sometimes required, for all students. It’s not uncommon for students to play multiple sports, participate in some sort of music program, be involved in school plays/performances, hold a position in student government, attend regular clubs, and compete in some sort of academic competition.
Because students at a smaller school are expected to participate in nearly everything in order for the school to field all the necessary programs and organizations, Christian school students are often stretched very thin. While all of these pursuits are enjoyable in a vacuum or in moderation, participation in all of them can lead to burnout.
Help your athletes stay healthy, happy, and focused by identifying three main causes of burnout in your athletic department.
Remember, the smaller your program, the greater your risk of athlete burnout.
Athletes will burn out very quickly if they are socially-wired children. For these athletes, the social aspect of school and teen life is far more alluring than athletic commitment.
These aren’t the kids you want to build your athletic program around, but most likely you do need their participation in order to field teams.
Participating on teams with demanding practice hours and competitive schedules will burn these athletes out very quickly since they will have less time for social pursuits.
Another social aspect of burnout among Christian school athletes is how their teammates view or accept their participation.
If coaches and ADs don’t pay attention to building positive athletic culture, then cliques and teasing (even hazing in extreme cases) can develop.
In the book Whose Game Is It, Anyway?: A Guide to Helping Your Child Get the Most from Sports, Organized by Age and Stage
by Richard Ginsburg, Stephen Durant, and Amy Baltzell, it is noted that:
When children play together in groups, they can feel insecure and fearful about being rejected by their peers.” (p. 187)
Even athletes who show promise in their respective sports will burn out over a period of time if they feel that they are not socially accepted by their teammates.
Physical overwork is another main cause of burnout among Christian school athletes. Being involved in many areas will have physical effects on any young person.
The first area to discuss regarding physical causes of burnout is sport induced pain.
Every athlete will suffer injuries at some point in his or her career. However, the pain caused by early specialization, overspecialization, and overuse will lead many athletes to look for a way out of their sport.
Not giving the body proper rest can lead to joint pain and muscle soreness that causes athletic competition to be painful and unenjoyable.
The athlete doesn’t necessarily need to stop all physical activity to deal with this pain. However, an extended break from that sport (1-3 months) can be extremely beneficial.
The human body is not designed to do the same thing over and over for extended periods of time. (Note: this article was written at the time between the NBA season and the World Cup of Basketball. 2014 NBA MVP Kawhi Leonard removed himself from the team USA roster citing a need to protect his body for future NBA competition through proper rest.)
Physical burnout can also develop when the athlete’s body type is not conducive to the sport in which they are participating.
At TheAthleticDirectors.com, we believe “The more sports you play, the better you get at all of them.” However, we do acknowledge that the 5’8”, 250-pound boy will probably have more success in wrestling than soccer.
Pressuring students to compete in sports that they are grossly un-gifted for is not beneficial to anyone involved. Sometimes we as the ADs just have to bite the bullet and accept that we can’t field the team if we’re relying on kids who are not suited for the competition.
Jason Gulbin, the leader of Australia’s athletic talent identification department, is quoted in Tom Farrey’s book Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children
“I think there is nothing more unethical than battling away at a sport that ultimately you’re not suited to.” (p. 219)
The final cause of physical burnout may be that the sport in question is too physically demanding for the athlete, at least for the time being.
This could refer to its the actual physical workload or the amount of time that must be invested. Some athletes tire out physically faster than others.
In the demanding and all-inclusive Christian school athletic department, coaches need to guard against physical burnout.
Sports induced pressure can occasionally prove to be too much for some athletes.
Two years ago, our junior high boys at VBA played an epic triple overtime basketball game. It was so much fun for me, the fans, and most of the players. However, at the beginning of the third overtime, one of the starters looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Coach, I’m done. This is too much pressure.”
I sat him for the final overtime period. Some would say that I enabled him to be a quitter. However, as Ginsburg, Durant, and Baltzell said in their book:
“Pressure can erase the fun and cause the quality of performance to decline.” (p. 193)
Why keep a kid in the game when he won’t have fun and will probably play poorly to boot? We did address the issue later, privately.
The point is this: sport induced pressure, whether situational or cultivated, will burn out many Christian school athletes.
Feeling the need to perform and meet certain expectations puts a lot of mental and emotional stress on kids that are usually not fully equipped to handle it. This pressure can come from teammates, coaches, and parents.
In closing, we would advise you to do your best to recognize that burnout is a big issue in Christian school athletic departments. Many of the pressures or expectations can come from outside the athletic department, but do what you can in your athletic department to minimize the factors that cause burnout.
At what level do you experience burnout in you Christian school athletic department?