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Overcoming Burnout and Reframing Success with Joe Fuggle, Former Elite GB Athlete

Joe Fuggle is a former elite GB Junior 400m hurdler and founder of The Athlete Place.

In this episode, Sun and Joe share an in-depth discussion about burnout, describing their personal experiences and the deeper insights they’ve gained about how they have been able to reframe their mentality around sports by changing motivation and how they measure success. Joe also shares how he now uses his experiences, knowledge, and passion of helping others to create The Athlete Place, a brand supporting athletes and parents in track & field.

You can find Joe at The Athlete Place — The place to go for track & field athletics guidance, support and storytelling.

@theathleteplace

LEARN MORE ABOUT ATHLETIC BURNOUT

Read our article about Burnout: Is Athletic Burnout More than Just Stress?

Risk factors for Athlete Burnout

There are multiple risk factors for young athletes developing overtraining/burnout: 

  • Environmental
    • Extremely high training volumes
    • Extremely high time demands
    • Demanding performance expectations (imposed by self or significant others)
    • Frequent intense competition
    • Inconsistent coaching practices
  • Personal characteristics
    • Perfectionism
    • Need to pleases others
    • Non-assertiveness 
    • Uni-dimensional self-conceptualization (focusing only on one’s athletic involvement)
    • Low self-esteem
    • High perception of stress (high anxiety)

Studies

Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports

Burnout In Youth Athletes: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment


At Rewire, our mission is to help athletes thrive by prioritizing their Mental Fitness and well-being. Make sure any signs of burnout are not going unnoticed by completing a readiness assessment today. You can also try a Mindset Recovery session for free to manage your emotional fatigue and stress to avoid experiencing burnout.

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Swimming and Burnout: How to Avoid It

Swimmers are prime candidates to experience burnout — here’s everything you need to know to set yourself up for success.

Swimming and burnout go hand in hand — to become a great swimmer, you need to put in countless hours in the water. But the depths of training don’t end once a swimmer steps out of the pool…

There are other strict routines that make up their weekly schedule — an intense diet, a recovery routine, gym sessions, and the pressure to succeed from themselves, their supporters (friends and family), and their coaches.

Swimming is intense, it’s difficult, and it requires a lot of dedication, perhaps more so than any other sport.

There’s a reason why so many elite swimmers encounter burnout or face a myriad of mental health issues. Take Michael Phelps, for example; the most successful and decorated Olympian of all time struggled with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts for years while in the pool, later opening up about his struggles which inevitably helped others. Whether part of the problem was burnout or not, it signifies a serious issue for competitive swimmers and other athletes.

Then there’s Simone Manuel, a professional American swimmer who revealed her burnout diagnosis back in 2021. And let’s not forget the countless other swimmers who are unable to reveal their burnout as they risk losing sponsorship or a spot on the team.

So, this blog post will discuss swimming and burnout in more detail — what burnout is, what causes it, and how to avoid burnout in swimmers.

What is athletic burnout in swimming?

Athletic burnout is seen as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s typically met with a mix of symptoms such as a lack of motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and even withdrawal from sport. 

One study takes it a step further, saying: “burnout in swimming is characterised by mental and physical exhaustion, a devaluation of swimming, and successes often become less meaningful.”

But why are swimmers most at risk? According to one study, individual sports presented a higher risk of burnout and other depressive symptoms. Furthermore, competitive swimmers typically dive into the pool and begin training anywhere from the ages of seven to twelve.

From a very young age, swimmers put in two-plus-hour training sessions multiple times a week. Often, it starts off as fun or, for Phelps, a way to burn off extra energy. But for many swimmers, it can be challenging to know why they started in the first place. 

It’s a sport that demands an excessive time and energy commitment, with those wearing the goggles and performing laps left to their own thoughts. You can likely already see why burnout is a risk and is perhaps more common than it should be.

What causes burnout in swimmers?

It’s rare that you’ll hear the term burnout spoken of without the mention of overtraining syndrome.

Overtraining syndrome is when an athlete engages in excessive exercise with inadequate rest and recovery, increasing their risk of burnout, but also physical injury. Stress also plays a key role — stress is essential for adaptation, but too much stress can contribute to overtraining and burnout. The stress can be out of the pool, too. For example, it could be academic pressures, family issues, or other social demands. 

It’s when the stress gets too high (physical and emotional) that an athlete is at risk of both overtraining and burnout, as mentioned by Dr Ralph Richards, former swim coach and sports scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport.

The more we understand the risk factors and what causes burnout in swimmers, the easier it is for coaches and athletes to counter it.

How to avoid athletic burnout in swimming 

There are numerous ways for coaches and swim athletes to avoid burnout in swimming.

Typically, the athlete will display signs of burnout and overtraining in training — this is likely to manifest as a decrease in training performance for 1 week or longer. It’s vital that the coach and athlete react to the symptoms early to prevent injury or a more serious case of burnout.

So, what can they do?

  • Ensure good communication between the coach and athlete
  • Create individualised training programs for swim athletes 
  • Increase training loads in a progressive manner 
  • Maintain variety and keep it fun
  • Include activities that ensure success

Continue reading to find out more about each prevention strategy. 

Ensure good communication 

As Dr Ralph Richards mentions, it’s important to ensure good communication between the coach and athlete. 

The swim athlete should feel comfortable with the coach — able to tell them if they feel a lack of motivation, confidence, or other risk factors associated with burnout.

But the same should be true for the coach-athlete relationship — the coach should be aware of the athlete’s performance and know when there’s an increased risk of burnout.

Good communication allows for early detection of burnout, making treatment easier.

Create individualised training programs for swim athletes

No two athletes are created the same in the pool or in any other sport — some athletes respond better to more intense training than others.

So, when creating a swim training plan, coaches should create these with each athlete in mind. It’s no good prescribing a dozen high-intensity intervals for an athlete who responds better to slightly less volume but equal intensity.

Also, if possible, the athlete should be involved when creating the training plan.

Increase training loads in a progressive manner

It’s the age-old rule for any type of training — progressive training is key to avoiding injury and burnout.

A good training plan should become progressively more difficult as the season goes on. Likewise, it’s important to include periods of low-intensity training and rest to ensure proper physical and mental recovery from the previous season or swim meets.

Maintain variety and keep it fun 

Even if you’re competing for Olympic gold, you should be having fun in training. Granted, not every training session in the pool will be enjoyable — but there should be one or two sessions that you look forward to.

This will pique your interest and keep you motivated for training.

Include activities that ensure success

And finally, the coach should include activities and training sessions in a swim athlete’s training plan that ensures success.

The cognitive appraisal model is all about stress — how an athlete interprets an event or situation and whether they see it as stressful. If an athlete has had success in similar events, then they are likely to see the situation as less stressful, reducing the overall stress load. 

This is important because cognitive appraisal is seen as an important variable in athletes experiencing burnout, as found in a 2017 study. By adding these periods of success, you can build up the confidence in swim athletes, reducing their overall stress levels and risk of burnout.

Use Rewire to combat stress and burnout 

Whether you’re a swimmer, a triathlete, a cyclist, or anything in-between, you’re at risk of burnout. However, if you can reduce stress and better control your immediate environment, then you can likely reduce your risk of burnout.

Begin using the Rewire Fitness app today for free and begin mental training to help combat burnout and reduce stress.

Interested in finding out more about burnout? Read our guide on athlete burnout and how to prevent it

Check out our podcast episode with Joe Fuggle as he shares his personal experience with burnout as a former elite GB athlete.


References:

Campbell, T.S., Johnson, J.A. and Zernicke, K.A., 2013. Cognitive appraisal. Encyclopedia of behavioral medicine, pp.442-442.

Gomes, A.R., Faria, S. and Vilela, C., 2017. Anxiety and burnout in young athletes: The mediating role of cognitive appraisal. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 27(12), pp.2116-2126.

Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek). https://memberdesq.sportstg.com/assets/console/customitem/attachments/burnout-rrichards.pdf

Kreher, J.B. and Schwartz, J.B., 2012. Overtraining syndrome: a practical guide. Sports health, 4(2), pp.128-138.

Martin, J., Byrd, B., Hew-Butler, T. and Moore, E.W.G., 2021. A longitudinal study on the psychological and physiological predictors of burnout in NCAA collegiate swimmers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, pp.1-17.

Nixdorf, I., Beckmann, J. and Nixdorf, R., 2019. Prevention of burnout and depression in junior elite swimmers. In Mental health and well-being interventions in sport (pp. 31-44). Routledge.


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Is Athletic Burnout More Than Just Stress?

It could be more than stress – you could be tip-toeing your way to burnout.

Whatever it is, just know that it’s completely normal to feel stressed from time to time.

Do you feel a lack of interest in your sport? Maybe lapses of motivation, increased stress, or little drive to participate or compete in a sport you once loved? If so, you could be experiencing what is known as “athletic burnout.” 

Athletic burnout is described as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s often accompanied by a lack of motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and in some cases, the need to withdraw from sporting activity, as stated in a 2007 study.

It’s common for burnout and stress to intertwine, especially in the workplace and in our personal lives. And it’s certainly possible for burnout to find its way into your training. So watch out, burnout stress is lurking around many corners, but there’s a difference between stress and burnout, especially when it comes to sports.

So, this blog post will explain more about stress and athletic burnout – how they are connected and what you can do to better manage your stress levels.

Burnout and stress – where’s the link? 

A good amount of research on athletic burnout suggests chronic stress to be a key driving factor behind burnout. 

The American College of Sports Medicine mentioned the physical, emotional, and academic pressures University and college-level athletes encounter regarding burnout. For example, student-athletes commonly miss lectures, are exposed to social isolation, limited privacy, inadequate recovery, the pressure to perform, the list goes on…

These physical and emotional stressors may contribute to athletic burnout – creating a link between stress and more severe burnout symptoms. Other researchers suggest that burnout is more than a side effect of chronic stress. 

Similarly, world-leading sports sociologist, Coakley, argues that stress is not the cause of burnout – it is a symptom. Other academics also view burnout as a result of entrapment in sports. 

Entrapment occurs when athletes no longer want to participate in their sport, but feel like they have to. This is more common in youth athletes – perhaps continuing to swim or run track to achieve a scholarship or to impress their peers, parents, or coaches.

The integrated model of athlete burnout

Many theories and models have described burnout and its association with stress, entrapment, and personality factors.

Trying to understand the main cause of athletic burnout when there are so many theories and models can be confusing. So, Gustaffson and colleagues created the integrated model of athlete burnout to best represent the many causes of burnout in sport.

Image credit: Gustaffson and colleagues – I’ve linked the paper in the image. I’ll also include a link below to the figure as a png.

The integrated model of athlete burnout takes into account the most popular explanations for burnout in sports. This combined model of burnout helps us better understand how different stressors and other factors out of our control may contribute to burnout, eventually leading to maladaptive consequences such as withdrawal and a performance decline. 

How to identify athlete burnout

There are a few telltale signs of athletic burnout that you should look out for. These symptoms may include:

  • Mood disturbances
  • A lack of motivation
  • Increased stress
  • A decrease in performance

You may also have other symptoms that go beyond stress – a sign that it’s more than a single episode of stress.

What are the side effects of athletic burnout? 

Athletic burnout is unique to the individual. But there are a few common side effects of burnout that many athletes encounter, such as:

  • Withdrawal from sport
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Depression
  • A further lack of motivation

Read our blog post on how to prevent athlete burnout for further tips and actionable strategies to help you beat burnout.

How to treat athletic burnout

It’s not uncommon for athletic burnout to go undetected. Often, athletes do not speak about stress, and how they’re feeling emotionally with their coaches, peers, or even parents. For many athletes, there’s too much at risk. And for others, they don’t know why they’re feeling how they do, whether that’s lapses in motivation, increased fatigue, or one of the many other burnout symptoms.

So, how do you treat it? The main way to overcome athlete burnout is to rest – taking time off from your sport to fully recover. However, you can also manage your emotional fatigue and stress to better understand when you are at a higher risk of burnout.

You may also consider adding stress relief sessions to your daily routine to better cope with stress, increasing relaxation when you need it most, whether after a challenging training session or a long day. If you are reading on mobile, you can complete the Rewire Fitness stress relief session here. On average Rewire users report a 70% decrease in stress after completing a 2 minute session.

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So, the big question: is athletic burnout more than just stress?

Burnout and stress have some correlation. However, whether stress is the cause of burnout or a symptom remains academically challenged. But we do know this: managing your stress, emotional fatigue, and controlling your immediate environment is likely to help prevent burnout. And if you’re looking for immediate stress relief, you may want to check out our blog post on 5-10 breathing

Start using the Rewire Fitness app today for free and begin mental training to help combat burnout and reduce stress.

FAQs

What are the signs of athletic burnout?

Telltale signs of athletic burnout include a lack of motivation, mood disturbances, increased stress, and a performance decrease.

What does sport burnout feel like?

Sport burnout is often described as physical and emotional exhaustion. You may also experience a reduced sense of accomplishment and less interest in your sport.

How long does it take to recover from burnout?

Burnout recovery varies from person to person. It can takes weeks or months to fully recover from burnout. 

References:

Coakley, J., 1992. Burnout among adolescent athletes: A personal failure or social problem?. Sociology of sport journal, 9(3), pp.271-285.

Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek).

Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G. and Hassmén, P., 2011. Athlete burnout: An integrated model and future research directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4(1), pp.3-24.

Raedeke, T.D., 1997. A sport commitment perspective. Journal of sport & exercise psychology, 19, pp.396-417.
The American College of Sports Medicine. 2021. The American College of Sports Medicine Statement on Mental Health Challenges for Athletes. [online] Available at: <https://www.acsm.org/news-detail/2021/08/09/the-american-college-of-sports-medicine-statement-on-mental-health-challenges-for-athletes> [Accessed 8 October 2022].


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What is Athlete Burnout And How Do You Prevent It?

Burnout is a term thrown around like confetti – we often hear students, teachers, and others speak of burnout as if it’s normal. But it’s not – burnout can be emotionally draining, negatively impacting your work, home, and social life.

In fact, upwards of 76% of employees experience burnout “at least sometimes” according to a 2020 study (8). 

And while burnout is somewhat normalised in the workplace, it is often not spoken of in the world of sport. 

Much like a marathon runner “hits the wall” and suddenly has no energy to finish their race – many athletes, young, elderly, elite, or recreational, encounter burnout and don’t know how to combat it.

There’s an invisible wall plastered in a lack of motivation, increased fatigue, decreased performance, and perhaps even physical pain.

This blog post will explain what athlete burnout is, how common it is, and how you can prevent and overcome burnout using a few psychological tips.

What is athlete burnout?

Athlete burnout is often characterised as a lasting experience of emotional and physical exhaustion. As a result, many athletes experience a lack of motivation, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and perhaps even withdrawal from their sport, as stated by a 2007 study (3). 

Overtraining syndrome and athlete burnout often go hand-in-hand. When an athlete overtrains, they fail to recover adequately from training or competition. 

The side effects of overtraining include hormonal changes, weakening of the immune system, and physical fatigue. But often, overtraining also comes with negative psychological changes, including an increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, a reduced sense of self-accomplishment, sport devaluation (3) and in some instances, a likelihood of developing an eating disorder (4). 

This is why Rewire assesses emotional and cognitive aspects of readiness, helping to combat overtraining, burnout, and emotional and mental fatigue. Assess your readiness for free to better understand your body mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

How common is burnout in sports?

The prevalence of burnout is somewhat unknown due to a lack of validity in the recording process. But a 2007 study containing 980 elite adolescent athletes found that an estimated 1-9% of athletes experience burnout, with a further 1-2% experiencing high levels of burnout (4). 

Another study of burnout assessing elite handball players (458 participants, male and female) aged 14-18 years old found that those who experienced burnout were more likely to quit handball years later than those who did not experience burnout (6). 

Further research suggests overtraining and burnout to affect between 30-35% of adolescent athletes (7). This is supported at the elite level too, with the American College of Sports Medicine reporting an estimated 35% of elite athletes to suffer from disordered eating, burnout, depression, and/or anxiety (1). 

So, what can we conclude from this? Athlete burnout is more common than we may think, especially among the population of elite and adolescent athletes, with upwards of 30-35% of athletes experiencing burnout. 

This could be due to increased pressure or juggling many responsibilities, although further research would be helpful towards understanding burnout. 

How to prevent burnout in athletes

The side effects of burnout in athletes can be adverse, including an increased risk of depression, further psychological stress, and a lack of motivation (5), as previously discussed.

But how do you prevent burnout? Athlete burnout is a personal experience, however, mindfulness and acceptance of burnout are two important initial stages of recovery.

Alongside acceptance and understanding the need to recover, certain cognitive-behavioural interventions may help lessen burnout symptoms (3).

Examples of interventions you can try include:

  • Visualisation 
  • Reinforced positive mantras 
  • Journaling and self-reflection

Keep reading to find out more about each technique and how they can help not only prevent burnout, but help you recover if you do encounter burnout.

Visualisation 

Visualisation is one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to mental strategies.

Imaging a scene and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells allows you to practice scenarios and build situation-specific confidence.

Typically, visualisation is used for practising serves, kicking a ball, running through your cornering technique, and so forth.

But the concept can also be applied to burnout – visualising success, feeling energised to train, and picturing your support network to push you on.  

Reinforced positive mantras

Positive mantras are statements you tell yourself to increase confidence.

Examples of reinforced positive mantras include:

  1. I feel mentally stronger
  2. I’m energised and ready to train
  3. I enjoy training 
  4. I perform well under pressure

You can also apply positive mantras to athlete burnout, telling yourself you are training hard enough, you’re not stressed, and you are prepared for competition.

Top tip: write positive mantras on a script or in your notes and repeat these to yourself daily. You can also customise these in the Rewire app as part of your pre-workout priming.

Journaling and self-reflection 

Although not a psychological trick, journalling is a great method of self-reflection, noting down your thoughts and clearing your mind.

If you’re suffering from athlete burnout, then it’s likely you’ll encounter negative self-talk and sport devaluation. 

Get these thoughts down on paper, throw them away, and clear your mind.

You can use the Rewire Fitness app to track your physical, emotional, and psychological wellness states. 

Our mindset recovery system consists of evidence-based protocols to promote effective mind (and body) recovery, including guided breathing, self-talk techniques, visualisation, and even binaural beats.

Prehabilitation for athlete burnout 

The role of prehabilitation is thought to help prevent overuse injuries, or if you’re already injured, it should help speed up recovery (2).

But what if we applied the same concept to athlete burnout? By performing psychological skills and techniques, you can strengthen your mind for the stress of sport, whether that’s coping with burnout or a physical injury.

Combat burnout and become a stronger athlete 

Athlete burnout is on the rise, with athletes experiencing a lack of motivation, increased stress and fatigue, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.

And while you can be running, cycling, or powerlifting one day, you may feel like you’ve hit that metaphorical wall the next. 

So, to summarise burnout in athletes:

  • Athlete burnout is on the rise (affecting upwards of 35% of athletesaffecting anywhere from 1-9% of athletes)
  • Symptoms of burnout include decreased motivation, increased stress, and even sports withdrawal 
  • Mental training and time away from sport may help combat burnout
  • Pre-hab is not only effective for preventing injury, but also burnout 

Start the Rewire Fitness app for free and begin mental training today, whether you’re fighting burnout or want to improve your psychological strength. 

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Matthew Mace is an avid cyclist, runner, and freelance content writer with a keen interest in psychology and injury. He studied sport and exercise at Durham University and now writes about cycling,  wellness and mental fitness.

Sources:

  1. ACSM_CMS. 2022. News Detail. [online] Available at: <https://www.acsm.org/news-detail/2021/08/09/the-american-college-of-sports-medicine-statement-on-mental-health-challenges-for-athletes#:~:text=Professional%20and%20elite%20athletes%20also,%2C%20depression%20and%2For%20anxiety> [Accessed 14 June 2022].
  2. ECU Online. 2022. How Prehab Helps in Preventing Injuries | ECU Online. [online] Available at: <https://online.ecok.edu/articles/prehab/> [Accessed 10 June 2022].
  3. Gustafsson, H., 2007. Burnout in competitive and elite athletes (Doctoral dissertation, Örebro universitetsbibliotek). 
  4. Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G., Hassmén, P. and Lundqvist, C., 2007. Prevalence of burnout in adolescent competitive athletes. The Sport Psychologist, 21, pp.21-37.
  5. Gustafsson, H., DeFreese, J.D. and Madigan, D.J., 2017. Athlete burnout: Review and recommendations. Current opinion in psychology, 16, pp.109-113.
  6. Isoard-Gautheur, S., Guillet-Descas, E. and Gustafsson, H., 2016. Athlete burnout and the risk of dropout among young elite handball players. Sport Psychologist, 30(2).
  7. Momsteam.com. 2022. Burnout In Youth Athletes: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment | MomsTeam. [online] Available at: <https://www.momsteam.com/burnout-in-youth-athletes-risk-factors-symptoms-diagnosis-treatment#:~:text=Although%20it%20is%20difficult%20to,to%2035%25%20of%20adolescent%20athletes> [Accessed 14 June 2022].
  8. Wigert, B., 2022. Employee Burnout: The Biggest Myth. [online] Gallup.com. Available at: <https://www.gallup.com/workplace/288539/employee-burnout-biggest-myth.aspx> [Accessed 14 June 2022].