Passion is a primary component of sport for all athletes. Passion fuels them to engage in a sport they find fulfilling, time-worthy, and essential to their life. The dedication and energy put into sport contributes to an athlete’s identity. When feeling passionate, they become willing to sacrifice certain aspects of their life to dedicate to training and racing. These sacrifices are usually non-negotiable and lead the athlete to feel good about themselves. They will build confidence with their approach, and optimistic with their experiences. Feeling passionate about a sport is also intimate for an athlete. Their story, goals, and desires lead them down this path. Strong emotions are connected with feeling passionate, including enthusiasm, excitement, and even euphoria. These positive emotions can assist an athlete mentally as they endure training sessions and competitions. What happens when the passion fizzles? How does an athlete begin rekindling passion with sport?
Endurance athletes might experience burnout during their careers. Burnout can be due to several reasons, such as lack of recovery, high training demands, extreme life stress, and even experiencing a DNF during a race. This overload experienced by an athlete causes them to experience drastic consequences both psychologically and physically. For example, an athlete might notice mood changes, lack of motivation, irritability, and even experience sickness and injury. This can be coupled with fear of returning to sport. During this time, they might question their self-worth, confidence, ability, and overall sense of self as an athlete.
Being physically ready to return to sport in one aspect to consider. Another aspect is being psychologically ready. Psychologically they could be experiencing a loss of love and a lack of desire to return. This could be based on a what-if scenario due to past experiences. For example, suppose an athlete experienced a DNF in a race and that led to them losing passion. They could be apprehensive about their ability to try it another time in the future due to the unknown. This worry could handicap mental well-being and their confidence, training, and physical performance. So, how can an athlete work on rekindling their passion for a sport after experiencing burnout?
Rekindling Passion With Sport
- Take the rest that is needed. There is no sense in pushing too hard, too soon. Take the appropriate amount of rest required both mentally and physically before returning to sport. When the timing is correct, the athlete will be in control of the decision. At this point, they can make the appropriate choice for themselves.
- Self-reflect on what led to the loss of passion. When burnout is experienced, emotions run high and cognitive abilities might be challenged. Before returning to sport, spend time self-reflecting on what elements led to the loss of passion in sport. It’s essential to participate in this activity in a non-judgemental manner. Recognize that how the athlete is feeling is valid. Identifying these elements will assist athletes in developing stronger strategies when they are ready to return to sport.
- Manage the “What-Ifs”. It is natural for an athlete to be concerned regarding what could go wrong when they reconnect with their sport. These “what-ifs” are usually connected to elements outside an athlete’s control, increasing anxiety, nervousness, and worry. Switching self-talk patterns from “what-if” to “then I” will assist an athlete in taking more control of a situation. For example, what if I get kicked in the face during the open water swim? This could be changed into stronger wording and help the manage the what-ifs. For example, If I get kicked in the face, I will take two side strokes and return to my routine. This sentence allows the athlete to build a strong self-talk pattern.
- Reflect on the WHY. Every athlete had a Day 1 when they signed up for their first race or began their sport. They experienced their first training session, and felt all the excitement and joy their sport could provide. After experiencing a loss of passion, these feelings can be suppressed. Burnout can even cause some athletes to resent their sport. An athlete reconnecting to their WHY is so important! Athletes should spend time rediscovering why they started the sport. They should ask questions such as:
- What has the sport has provided me?
- How much have I grown since their first day of training
Every athlete’s journey is unique. Endurance athletes have a strong sense of passion and desire connected to their sport which can be challenged. Athletes need to allow themselves to feel their emotions without judgment. They need to rest mentally and physically until they feel prepared to return to sport. As they return they can implement coping strategies such as:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Imagery practices
Rekindling passion with sport is not impossible. Taking time away and reassessing what is important will help. Remember to think about what you as the athlete wants and not what the outside is telling you to want.