Remedies for Collegiate Burnout

The past five years I coached at the NCAA Division I level here in Portland. This year, however, I am happy to report I have left the NCAA system. Why? In a word: burnout. No, I am not burnt out on coaching — I still have 5 more years until I retire! — rather I am burnt out on watching athletes burn out. From my experience, the heart of this variety of coaching entails an attempt, in vain, to prepare young men and women distance runners to compete at a very high competitive level for nine months out of the year, four years in a row. It is a fool’s gambit and athlete burnout is a guarantee.


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5 replies
  1. George Beinhorn
    George Beinhorn says:

    A very clueful post that gave me joy to read. Isn’t this essentially how Cam Levins became absolutely dominant in the NCAA in his junior and senior years? It addresses a criticism of the US collegiate sports system that Arthur Lydiard leveled many years ago, that it’s perfectly designed to destroy runners. I’ve cringed to see how many runners have been destroyed by reckless coaching here on the West Coast at Stanford and Oregon. Thankfully, Chris Middleton seems to know how to take care of his athletes. The results so far are promising; we’ll see. Not so fortunate was Jordan Hasay at Oregon, where it seems she was expected to thrill the crowds, the alumni, the media, and the looky-loos on LetsRun every time she raced – with predictable results. And what’s happened with Hasay and Levins after college? Are their unsteady and disappointing results to be laid at the doorstep of their professional coaches? Or is their another explanation? At any rate, thanks again for this. It sorely needed to be said.

  2. Robin
    Robin says:

    Good ideas that need to be discussed! As a former D1 distance coach, I had the same issues. Thanks for a thoughtful article.

  3. George Brose
    George Brose says:

    I think your article makes a heck of a lot of sense. Both the coach and the athlete can be guilty of what can be called overtraining for lack of a better word. Trying to rein in an athlete’s enthousiasm is a major job for a coach. Keeping them from taking that extra workout or running 15 miles on Sunday when you prescribed ten or less. Having a great race and thinking you can push harder in practice can have dreadful consequences. I burned out so badly after my third year I couldn’t even look at a track meet for several years. We all thought more was better. On the reverse side of the coin is being coached by someone trying to build their reputation as a coach on the backs of their athletes, sometimes even on the backs of their own children. There’s a lot of luck in matching the right athlete and the right coach. Some universities have a huge amount of success but may have also destroyed a lot of athletes doing so. One has to be very careful when selecting where they will train and with whom. Sometimes it’s not the coach or the athlete’s fault, it’s just a toxic atmosphere of jealousy and hyper competitiveness on the team that brings an athlete or a program down. Other sports can have similar problems. Young baseball pitchers destroy their arms by not taking proper rest between games. They get fired up with a great performance and are in the weightroom the next day, not allowing themselves to recover. That thrill of success can be a very unhealthy addiction if allowed to run its course unchecked.

  4. GHM
    GHM says:

    The problem?
    NCAA counts XC, indoor, and out as three different sports so they can keep their precious football out of title 9 (IX) mess. IMO you make any NCAA sport season longer and with that extended time cause damage to athlete health. Here is my idea how to seriously damage health of other athletes in NCAA. Off course I am not touching precious football.

    How about indoor and outdoor swimming counting as two sports? Open water swimming makes it three sports.
    Indoor and out door soccer. Add beach soccer that makes it three sports.
    Indoor and beach volleyball.
    Basketball and 3-men outdoor B-ball.


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