Softball is becoming a year round sport. Coaches register for tournaments all year and travel to neighboring communities and across countries and borders to make sure that their team gets the most training and the best opportunities to test and show their skills. An extremely busy game schedule with training in between, and insufficient recovery though, can contribute to over training, which can then lead to softball burnout. I have seen kids as young as 12 burned out because not only do they have their busy softball schedule but they could also have their soccer, gymnastics, basketball and volleyball schedules as well. Another contributing factor to burnout is staleness, which can be a lack of variety in training where the mind and body are not challenged and has the potential to get bored.
“Burnout is a consequence of prolonged stress that may result in emotional exhaustion, denationalization, and a reduced sense of meaning or personal accomplishments” Raedke and Smith (2004). So if we look at these components, how can we help to mitigate burnout as coaches. Through scheduling, coping skills and ensuring a level of support for our players, we can help our teams to feel motivated and energetic through the entire season.
Create a yearly training plan, this is where scheduling should be done all in one place. Many coaches will wing it and schedule as they go which can be a huge contribution to softball burnout because it can create exhaustion which is stress on the body and mind. Many of these schedules only consider what is going on at the moment and not in the coming weeks. If the schedule does not allow for sufficient recovery, players will begin to appear less interested and their skills will eventually deteriorate resulting in decreased performance when it counts.
Our expectations of performance need to align with the ability of the athletes and the schedule of the team. If we are demanding 100% and some even say 110% perfection every time they step on the field, along with a packed schedule, stress can mount and softball burnout begins. As part of recovery, we need to allow time for the players to relax, have fun and even let their guard down occasionally. The theory for many on this part of coaching softball is that if we allow them to be lazy, they will. Not true. If we allow our players to develop internal motivation by creating their own self direction, we do not need to try to control their level of intensity because they will want to improve as much as we want them to.
Simple things such as sleep, good nutrition, physical fitness and time spent with family and friends are useful in alleviating some of the stress that can build during a season. The body needs good fuel and to be rested so that it can cope physically with stress. Late or early morning practices and many tournaments during the season are hard on a body regardless of age and or experience level. Even Olympic athletes are granted a break and time for physical recovery.
Allowing time for friends, family and fun are critical for the mental recovery. A break from the field will give the players time to rejuvenate and look forward to returning to compete and improve with focus. If the only thing that they think about is softball, it gives them time not only to think about errors and less than optimal performance but also increases the pressure to perform which again contributes to stress. Yes some softball players live and breathe the game however off the field activities are a good diversion to keep that passion alive.
Having the support of family is important to the success of any softball player. Family members such as parents and even siblings can sometimes be the self esteem that a player might not be able to find within themselves on a bad day. When a player feels like they are not performing to expectations it can have a negative effect which has the potential to grow if there is not support from those around her. Social support is also useful which is why time with friends and a good team environment should be considered in the seasonal planning.
Most softball players are and should be playing other sports along with softball in their youth. This is a great way to develop multiple sport skills such as agility, coordination, balance and speed. Some coaches have a high expectation on these athletes to focus on softball exclusively. This is OK during the season, but when the season extends into the fall and then quickly starts again in the spring, which many teams are doing now. The pressure, and the psychological stress from wanting to commit to more than one sport and feeling obligated to softball if they “want to be on the team” is going to show on the field in some way.
Mental Training and Burnout:
By incorporating mental skills into training, coaches can give players tools that they can use on their own to help prevent softball burnout. Goal setting, relaxation and visualization are just a few tools that can be used on a daily basis while on and off the field and for more than just softball. Goal setting specifically is a great way to stay on track and not get too far ahead of progress.