Burnout in Athletics with Dr. Etnier – 649

Understanding why youth burnout of sports is a question Dr. Jennifer Etnier says comes back to coaching.


Who is Dr. Jennifer Etnier?

  • A Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Academy of Kinesiology. 
  • Former the President of the North American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity and Editor of the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 
  • The principal investigator of the Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease 2 study at UNCG.

You talk about sports, but do you even play them?

She plays pretty much all sports

Soccer is the family favorite, but in the days before the interview, she was out water-skiing and playing tennis…so yes she plays

How can we avoid contributing to athlete burnout?

ATs can really help in preventing this, here are a few ways.

  • Educating athletes about being in tune with their own body
  • Educating about overtraining – leads to higher stress hormones
  • Knowing the ability to get over a plateau and encouraging them through
  • Being a confidant/peer/friend

Talk more about the confidant role:

  • If you have a sports psych they should be the main contact.
  • You can really point them in the right direction
  • Sometimes the battle is with the parents
  • We are already knowledgeable of the needs and burnout, but outside of sports can really play a role…acknowledge, normalize, what does bring you joy… let’s bring those things back into sport.
  • EDUCATE, use every tool
  • Know that if I push too hard they may burn out of ALL physical activity.
  • Avoid sports specialization

After the interview, Sofia, my co-worker, said the coach was the reason she quit playing sports in college. She did not feel she could talk to the coach without retribution. Half of the team left because of the abusive style of the coach.

In your NYT article, published earlier this year, you detailed the lack of “quality” coaches at the youth level. What do you think youth organizations could do now, and in the future, to promote higher quality coaching?

Organizations like SportsMedDiscussion that help educate

FUN – people play sports because it is fun…if it is no longer fun it is because of the people in it

Focus on process, not the outcome when a kid says:

“Oh my coach only cares about winning”

They figure it out quickly, if you focus only on winning then they learn there is no point of playing unless you are winning.

Even at the professional level this is true, focus on the process.

FUN and the Process

With respect to the effects that COVID has had on the mental health of student-athletes (young and old), what do you feel are the most important principles that should govern the way we approach coaching?

Dr. Etnier reminds us: Do not cross the line – if you are not a mental health professional do not take on that role

Find joy and fun in our lives

I have never dealt with depression, but in May of 2020 I was dealing with some

Calling friends on the phone.

“Isn’t it great that we are back together” – maybe you need to help amplify

How do we teach “process”

Mental imagery is a great tool if you can teach it

Goal Setting is important

Setting up short term goals that move you to long term goals can help prevent burnout…small victories

Have coaches provide positive feedback not just negative.

From a coaching standpoint: How do you suggest dealing with the kid who isn’t necessarily the “most talented” or “least attentive”? How do you get them to buy-in?

Only as strong as your weakest link the top athletes are going to get the attention, but the bottom half of the order can strike out and kill the rally.

If we all get better than we as a team will have more success than we did last year.

Equitable vs equal is an important shift

What are some suggestions you have for compliance to exercise/practice that coaches can use/we can use ourselves?

Revisit goals

Routine and Rut can get old

  • Is it always the same old thing?  Let’s mix it up

Make it so they want to come.

Always have something new as part of your routine

Play music

Picture wall

Change the location some – outside, hallway, gym

***it comes back to relationships***

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Contact Us:

Dr. Jennifer Etnier – jletnier@uncg.edu

Ray Olivo – https://twitter.com/RayOlivo20

Jeremy – https://twitter.com/MrJeremyJackson

Links and Resources

Article in NY Times

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