Student-athlete burnout and how to recharge

By Kendall Westgate

Classes. Practice. Games. Homework. Social life. Early wake ups. Late nights. There is almost always something to be thinking about or doing when it comes to college athletes, which can lead to intense burnout.

“I’ve experienced burnout multiple times throughout my athletic career,” University of Findlay sophomore Emma Lynch said. “It can be extremely draining and hard to pull yourself out of.”

Many students grow up playing sports since they were young, with aspirations to play in college. Throughout their adolescence and teenage years, they spend hours improving their performance in hopes to gain the eyes of college scouts. Practicing for hours can lead to burnout, which is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress, according to Psychology Today.

“Sometimes burnout can look like some of the symptoms of depression, not always, so sort of fatigued,” UF clinical mental health counselor Courtney Hughes-Ksenich said. “Feeling like you’re not interested in the sport, so you are not as enthusiastic about what you used to love and that can sometimes look like a sign of depression.”

Besides symptoms of depression, other signs to look for are changes in emotions, difficulties concentrating, decreases in strength and coordination, appetite loss and greater susceptibility to illness, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Burnout happens from excessive amounts of training with little recovery time and the athlete’s motivation level, according to the NCAA.

“The biggest thing is usually the giant pressure to do well in their sport and classes to maintain eligibility to maintain a scholarship. So essentially, pressure and then when you’re adding people to that, so parents putting on pressure or friends, teammates, coaches,” Hughes-Ksenich said. “That can create losing joy in the sport and so then that slowly can turn into burnout.”

To help avoid burnout, Hughes-Ksenich recommends at least one rest day a week or different types of training to mix it up. Surrounding oneself with a supportive environment with teammates and coaches helps avoid burnout, as well, according to Hughes-Ksenich. However, if an athlete faces burnout, they should reach out to somebody to help sort through the burnout and possibly release built-up tension, like the UF counseling services, coaches, teammates or parents.

“I like to remember the root of why I play tennis in the first place. My dad is a tennis pro and has grown up teaching me the game. Tennis is something we can do together and bond over. It is easy to lose yourself in the competitiveness of college sports and get really discouraged when things aren’t going great,” Lynch said. “However, at the end of the day I do this for fun, and remembering that is how I cope with burnout.”

Student-athletes spend between 30-40 hours towards athletic ventures, while also maintaining a decent GPA by studying about 17 hours a week, according to the NCAA. Taking time to participate in self-care can help keep stress levels low by recharging the body, according to Hughes-Ksenich. Setting goals and managing one’s time helps manage both a major and sport in college.

“I like to set realistic, non-result based goals for myself. Focusing on results only gets me very burnt out very quickly. When things are not going great, it is easy to want to give up. Instead, I like to mentally reward myself throughout the journey to good results,” Lynch said. “Improvement is not linear, and focusing on each step to greatness instead of just being great keeps me motivated.”

Despite the burnout student athletes may undergo, many feel it is worth it. Being a part of a team provides a student with discipline, financial security through scholarships and education, according to Kerry Brown of Next College Student Athlete (NCSA) Recruiting.

“I love being a student athlete and the pros outweigh the cons.,” Lynch said. “Obviously no experience is going to be perfect, but I enjoy the structure in my day and the competition I get to see.”