Coaching Q&A: Detecting Athlete Burnout
Purpose2Play: Whether forced by a parent or feeling pressured by peers to play, sometimes young athletes just aren’t interested in the sport they are playing. How can a coach detect when an athlete’s heart just isn’t in it?
Paul Peavy: Non-verbals are huge in this. The slumping shoulders, the lack of eye contact, and those type of things are huge. I always tell people the best way to interpret somebody’s non-verbals is to make them become verbals. Ask them how they are feeling, what’s going on, etc. Other signs could be always being late or checking-out early, and constantly forgetting equipment. Of course, the lack of hustle and effort can also lead to a good discussion.
Purpose2Play: What tactics can the coach take to make the team environment more fun/interesting?
Paul Peavy: If you know the kid’s interest level, you can match that expectation level as a coach. You can tell that if a kid just wants to play to get some exercise, socialize, or learn a game you can ratchet down the expectation level with that kid. My daughter is a swimmer and her friends are hard core two-a-day, year-round practice swimmers. When it comes to high school swim season, there are many swimmers that want to try out the sport or learn to be a better recreational swimmer, or they need an extracurricular activity on their college resume’. It would be totally unfair to put these swimmers into a practice with these yea- round experienced swimmers, so they have separate “high school” lanes and workouts so the dedicated year-round swimmers don’t lose anything off of their training and the high school season only swimmers get to experience being part of the swim team.
Purpose2Play: Let’s say the coach’s strategies just don’t work, and the young athlete still has no desire to participate. How should the coach approach the athlete’s parents? What should be said?
Paul Peavy: I think this discussion is crucial because you may be able to have a more level headed discussion with the parent and keep the parent from going off on the kid. I think the coach should offer suggestions for alternatives and mention things such as, “I don’t think Jaunita is that into this. What do you think she wants to get out of this? What do you as parents hope she gets out of it?”
“Have you considered ___________________(martial arts, gymnastics, swimming, lacrosse, cross country etc…).” Then everyone could come to the conclusion that Jaunita’s level of commitment is going to be only a certain level, so that everyone has the same expectation, and it’s a better experience for all involved.
Purpose2Play: Let’s say it comes down to the athlete wanting to quit. As the coach, what does the “exit” conversation sounds like with he/she? How do you explain the athlete’s decision to the rest of your team?
Paul Peavy: I think you start with the positive: “You’re a great kid, you really are fun to be around…” and list whatever strengths you see in the kid. Also offer other sports or activities they might want to try. Then tell the kid that if he or she wants to change his or her mind they are welcome back. Make sure to list the stipulations for their return — even offering the option of an assistant coach or trainer.
As far as the team, you can ask the kid if he/she wants to tell the team him or herself. If not, simply explain in a very, very short talk that Juanita has made other plans, and we agreed on her not coming back to the team. Stressing that it was a mutual and positive decision. Most players on the team already knew Juanita wasn’t happy through her attitude or actual conversations that had spread through the grapevine.
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