Today's post comes to you from our Zen-Master Intern, Myron Tan. Myron knows a thing or two about balancing life; you can find him practicing his yoga moves after a heavy Oly-lift session. Take it away Myron! Why do athletes need a mental break from their sport? It can help prevent the following: boredom and lack of motivation to practice/compete, mental fatigue, and combat the pressure in competition. Those three things will, if left unchecked, ultimately lead to decreased performance and burnout. We're going to delve a bit deeper into each reason and by the end should convince you of the importance of mental breaks.
1) Boredom/Lack of Motivation
More is not necessarily always better. For example, if an athlete reaps the benefits of practicing 3 days a week for 6 months, practicing 6 days a week for 12 months is not twice as beneficial. One of the defining characteristics of an athlete approaching burn-out is the loss of enjoyment in the activity. This extends from youth sports all the way to the professional ranks.
When participating in your sport is no longer enjoyable, that is a warning sign that you need a mental break from it. When an athlete is overcome with the demands of their sport… enthusiasm and passion for the activity suddenly disappear. This is commonplace especially in youth sports because of the “more is better” mentality that sport coaches and parents often have.
Do you loath going to practice? Are competitions that were once exciting and challenging, suddenly feel like a chore?
Athletes, parents, and coaches need to always be mindful of the fun factor when it comes to the in-season. Performance and success on the field are not mutually exclusive from enjoyment.
After every practice or game, we need to aim for our athletes to ask “When do I get to do this again?” instead of “When will this be over?”
2) Mental fatigue
We would never run our bodies to the ground to the point of failure. (note from Kelsey: At least we shouldn’t.) Our psychological well-being is just as important and deserves equal care. When an athlete is overcome with the monotony and increased time demands of their sport, mental fatigue can occur. This will exhibit itself as a temporary inability to maintain optimal cognitive performance. If an athlete is not all there mentally it will negatively transfer to their ability on the field.
Correct periodization in strength and conditioning during the season will not only maintain strength, power and agility, but help decrease the risk of injury. In addition, this off-the-field time will provide a much needed mental break from an athlete’s sport.
This will take an athlete’s mind off their sport and introduce balance into their life by not being too neurotic or overly focused in any one facet.
One of the key elements that lead to athlete burnout is feeling too much pressure. There’s no question that competition is good and can contribute to creating a motivated athlete. Pressure can come from competition and the people we’re surrounded with. A desire to win creates pressure. Expectations from teammates, parents, and coaches create pressure. Pressure is critical to driving the competitive engine.
However, if you are constantly under extreme pressure from yourself, coaches, or parents, this will lead you down a bad road; down a road where you never get to relax and unwind. A road where this pressure can drain the enjoyment out of your sport.
Just like how having adequate rest periods between sets is important, having adequate mental breaks from your sport is vital to long-term success.
To wrap that all up, balance is key to everything we do in life, and this is certainly true of participating in sports.
Entering a long season is like entering battle. We must be ready for the long-haul and continue to have the mental fortitude to deal with the stressors and challenges along the way.
Think of your mind as your weapon, sharp or dull. A sharp weapon will demolish the competition; but if the weapon loses its edge, you will continue to strike your enemies with a dull axe and accomplish nothing.
Remember, mental rest is part of your training as an athlete and part of our work as sport and strength coaches. If you don’t take time to “sharpen your axe,” to rest your mind and body giving them time to recharge, then you will become increasing less efficient and DULL.
You can accomplish this by maintaining balance in your sport and prioritizing enjoyment. Utilize a resistance training program that is conducive to a successful in-season.
You have my permission to take a mental break from your sport; and my approval to reap the physical and mental benefits of in-season lifting.