Burn Out: What Does It Look Like & How Do You Fight Back?

[Originally posted on ILWomen.com here]

Players becoming burnt out of lacrosse has recently become a hot topic, with kids specializing in the sport so early we see drop off as players age. Specialization is a huge part of it; I can’t say enough that kids should continue to play as many sports as they can. Playing different sports usually shifts social circles, schedules, and overall thinking so that when lacrosse season comes, they are excited! 

During various points of my lacrosse career, I was burnt out and I had no idea. Looking back on those times, I should have seen the signs and dealt with it differently. So, what happened? How did I not know? What would I have done differently? That’s what I hope to explain! 

I was the last kid you would’ve thought had burned out, I loved lacrosse and still do. In high school, I cut out all of the Inside Lacrosse front covers and put them on top of my wall as wallpaper in my room. I soaked up every piece of information I could, both on the men’s and women’s side. However, in doing so, I unintentionally created a world where lacrosse was my entire world. I’d go to school, spending time in classes with mostly teammates, and with free time hang out with those teammates. It’s not surprising then to imagine what happened when I had a bad practice or game, what that did internally.

I felt like I let the people closest to me down, especially during the recruiting process. I felt like my world was collapsing in those moments like one bad game would lead me never to get recruited. When you go through this much mental anguish, it leads to burn out quickly. I remember my junior year of high school like it was yesterday, all of the built-up emotions led me not wanting to practice, which I attributed to off days. I couldn’t possibly be burnt out, I loved lacrosse. Looking back now though, it’s very clear that I was. I had forced myself into this role, which followed me to college with teammates calling me “Lyndslax” and “doc” joking that I would be getting my PhD in lacrosse. This mentality of always having to seem in love with the sport and happy at every practice contributed I think to my bouts with burn out. Keep reading and I’ll talk about what I should have done instead of keeping my thoughts inside.  

While I recognize my story doesn’t match every player out there, I don’t think it’s atypical either. This happens to high school and college players alike. Particularly during the recruiting process, it takes a toll. All of your mental energy is towards school, lacrosse, and the time for friends that you have. I thought watching TV was a break for me, but it was (and is) a time suck. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch TV or am recommending not to watch. I wished I had done something else with my spare time like read a book on a topic I was interested in or started a new hobby. It would have given me something to look forward to, something else to be a part of me besides lacrosse. While yes, during your downtime you want to use the least possible mental energy, doing something productive always seems to personally make me feel better than after I waste an hour of mindless TV.  

I’m so glad the recruiting rules have shifted, and hopefully it will make the process a little more manageable and allow players the time for self-exploration they need. The time in high school for self-exploration is so crucial not only to avoid what I described above but for players to decide if playing lacrosse in college is something they truly want. I’ve also seen many times where players get to college and end up quitting by sophomore year because they didn’t love the sport or the lifestyle as much as they thought. Players go through the cycle that I was describing above of lacrosse taking over their lives, and sometimes it’s enough, and sometimes it’s not. For me, I loved it that way. I loved my teammates, my school, the other athletes and students I was surrounded by in classes and dorms. Obviously, as I mentioned it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, looking back there were definitely times in college when I felt the burn out, but overall it was exactly what I wanted.

So what are some signs that it’s time for you to take a break and take some “you” time?

1. Are you dreading going to practice over 25% of the time?

2. Are you wishing practice was over majority of every practice?

3. Do you come off of the field from practice or games upset or not happy majority of the time?

4. Do you spend more than 75% of your time thinking or talking about lacrosse?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’re very likely burnt out. So what can you do?

1. Talk to your teammates. The ones that love it, everything about it. Don’t surround yourself with the group of complainers/downers. Yes, every team has them and you know who they are. You need to be uplifted right now and supported not brought down further.

2. Talk to a counselor/sports psychologist. I’m sure within your school or athletic department there are resources to where you can find some help on how your feeling and ways to approach the sport.

3. Talk to your coach. I know it’s scary, but your coaches want you to succeed. If you’re not 100% invested, then odds are you won’t play at your best and your team won’t either. Some serious time off might be necessary, but it’s not the end of the world. Chances are, you’ll come back refreshed and playing much better because of it.  

So what else can be done to help with burn out? 

My hope is that coaches realize this phenomenon and can implement more fun into practices. It’s not every coach’s dream to stop practice and play some silly game, but I’d bet the next drill your team does will be more productive than if you hadn’t. Utilizing music is also another good option to improve overall player attitude. During warm-ups, players usually like to chit chat and catch up, which is always a great thing to me. I think players need this transition time from school mode to practice mode to catch up with teammates. Adding music into the mix will only improve spirits. Many times, this little bit of change is what players need as a reminder that this is a game and is fun!