Burnout in sports or why athletes leave the volleyball field?

So, volleyball lovers, you know that I am much into telling you stories.

Most of the time, I am trying to send you positive messages (and I hope I will be able to do so also in this post).

This time the topic I’d like to write about is deeper. However, I hope you’d read that text and in the end of it you will be making questions and finding answers.

October, 2014. I remember this afternoon when I was still living in Bulgaria. I was in the bus travelling to my hometown. And I was reading some sports web sites when I saw articles with titles such as : “Shocking! Matt Anderson leaves Zenit Kazan”; “Matt Anderson has depression” etc.

I also published an article about that on VolleyCountry and to me, the case was closed. Leave the guy find his way.

May, 2016. Away from Bulgaria, I am trying to stay up to date and I am informing myself from some Bulgarian sports web sites. Where yesterday I happen to read the news about one of the leading players in the national team – Nikolay Penchev, asking for some vacation before the season with NT to start.

And here we come.  Comments, opinions from all the side”s – Why is this happening?; What is Nikolay’s problem?; Is his girlfriend guilty for the situation? (?!?); etc. etc.

Do you know how small snow balls turn into an avalanche?


Every time when a situation like this comes up in the sports world, I start to observe the reactions and they really remind of the process how an avalanche grows. Media, social networks – all these communications canals are weapons to make from a small case a big drama. To boost it.

I don’t know what the case of Penchev is but I am sure he, himself, would explain it the best when can. And he will do it.

But the stories Anderson and Penchev made me think of burning out in sports (I read in some of the sites that the head coach of Bulgarian national team Plamen Konstantinov  has said Nikolay is suffering from emotional burn out).

I am familiar with burning out because (surprise!)  I know how difficult it is to handle it all at once, especially when all eyes are on you and people have expectations.  And I don’t feel ashamed of sharing this with you.

But here I give you some reasons for burning out in sports:

There are three main theories about how athletes become burned out. One possible explanation has to do with excessive stress and pressure (1). Constant pressure to win, train and perform could lead to mental and physical exhaustion and stress, leading to burnout. A second possible cause is the feeling of entrapment (1). The athlete who experiences feelings of entrapment has invested a lot of time and energy into the sport but does not experience any rewards from participation or enjoyment in the sport. The costs begin to outweigh the benefits, and they will eventually burnout and drop out. A final theory to explain burnout involves the issue of empowerment (1). Sociologist Jay Coakley proposed the idea that the structure of organized, competitive  sports becomes controlling. It controls the identity of participants and controls their lives, leaving them feeling disempowered. Coakley theorizes that a desire for personal control over one’s life is a possible cause of burnout in sports.(http://educatedsportsparent.com/)

So, no matter what the reason is, burnout in sports is a serious problem and developed sports teams and organizations should rely on sports psychologists.

But I get really pissed off when I see a bunch of critics around the social networks when a famous player decides to take things a bit slower.

So here is my message to these critics:

We all have had our ups and downs. And through this blog post I ‘d like to call your attention once again that sportsmen are human beings above all.

Usually, athletes who are used to win, have a strong character and even stronger will to win and achieve. Otherwise they wouldn’t be professionals who win great competitions.

The years of training, the years of missing important family moments etc, could bring these strong characters to burning out.  

They feel the pressure of our expectations but meanwhile, while being human beings, they deserve to have a normal life.

I know what you’d say – it’s their choice. Of course. It’s up to them.

Every self-decision we take in our life is our responsibility and because of that we don’t own nothing to nobody but ourselves and our nearest and closest people who support us day after day.

So, if an athlete decides to take a break, leave the person alone and if you are really thankful for what this athlete gave to your sport, show your support in difficult moments also.

It’s none of your business if the decision was taken because the athlete feels tired emotionally or has another problems. It’s the same if you have problems and you want to stop for a while.

 If you walk a mile with their shoes, then, only then, maybe you’d have a right to speak a word.

And to non-critics:

Keep up that way!

Eventually, maybe the message of this article is also positive one, volleyball lovers! I believe you know it.

P.S. From the three theories for burning out, my attention was called mostly by the third point. So, in another blog post I will talk you more about “Controlling one’s personality in sports”.

Photo: kanal3.bg