I know the 2019-2020 Winter Short Course Season is just getting started, but it is as good as time as any to address burnout.
As many of you know, the amount of pool time that swimmers of my generation put in was brutal. The only expectations and guidelines were set by the coach. We were a generation of athletes bogged down with injury and exhaustion. So much so that in 1989 USA Swimming regulated that swimmers could not be in the pool for more that 20 hour a week. That is still four hours of in water training a day! That is still excessive.
The regulation USA Swimming created was supposed to protect swimmers, but that was when age group swim practice was strictly Monday through Friday.
These days Saturday practice is the norm, and plenty of teams are now introducing Sunday training. I'm not even including dryland. We may have shortened water time, but we have spread out swimmers commitment to being at the pool.
This is a sport notorious for its extensive physical and emotional demands. How is it possible for middle school and high school age athletes to carry the burden of homework and 6 days a week of practice? Where does that leave time for friendships, jobs or any other activities or interests? Is it a wonder so many gifted swimmers don't continue swimming through high school?
The solution might not be simple but the reasons for low retention of high school age swimmers is clear. Burnout.
What can we do as coaches to help?
Encourage friendships- Team building and creating community should be at the forefront of every team. So often these types of activities are overlooked, but if a 30 year old can experience on the job burnout because of repetition and exhaustion why can't a 13 year old?
Be flexible- Allow your swimmers time away from the pool. Perhaps during the fall you might shorten Friday practice, so your swimmers can attend school events or be with friends outside of the team. Nurturing an environment of flexibility doesn't mean some won't quit, but it might make more want to stay.
Offer support- Bring in a Sports Psychologist to speak with the team, or have a team meeting and openly broach the subject of burnout with your swimmers. Really listen to your team's feedback. It is important to have an open dialogue.
Remember, at the end of the day not every swimmer you train is bound for a college athletic career, but we should want all of them to be swimmers for life not just for a season.