Dealing With Burnout

learn from the best

Photos left to right by Kevin Leclaire for UltiPhotos, Jolie J Lang for UltiPhotos, David Matthis, and Katie Eberhart

Ultimate is a huge part of our lives, but the sport we love can become overwhelming. Between leagues, pick-up, practice, weekend-long tournaments, and training, ultimate can become exhausting. We asked our panel of elite athletes and coaches if they've ever felt close to burnout and what they did to combat that feeling. 

Rachel Turton

SMOG and Great Britain Mixed National Team

Yes, definitely! In previous sports, and now in Ultimate too. As a teenager I was a swimmer and to be at the top of the game this meant morning training and evening training week in, week out throughout the year. I loved competing - I am ridiculously competitive but this really took its toll on my body and mind, and I ended up not enjoying training anymore. I learnt a lot from swimming that has carried over into my ultimate career but one of the most important things for me is to regularly check in with myself about how I'm feeling mentally and physically to try and prevent burn out before it hits me.
This year especially, I have played a lot of ultimate with three major peaks so far this year - European Beach Ultimate Championships, The Australian Ultimate League and European Ultimate Championships. Since January I have been at National Team training, or at international tournaments 3 weekends out of every 4, as well as training 3-5 times per week. On paper this sounds to me like a sure fire way to burn out, but I have been building towards these big seasons for the past few years, and putting in the hard work during the off season with the Ultimate Athlete Project means that my body can cope with the high load during the main season. I certainly have moments where I wish I didn't have to go away at the weekend, or could skip some gym sessions (which totally happens when I feel overloaded!) but my mental toughness usually gets me to training!
However, on that 'off weekend' every month, I purposefully do no ultimate, not thinking about my team, not watching footage, not even throwing. On these weekends I make time for my other hobbies such as skiing, hiking, climbing, mountain biking and spending time with my family, and I come back feeling super refreshed and ready to go again. Taking time off allows me to remember that although our sport is a huge part of my life, that there are lots of other things that matter to me outside of ultimate, that I also really love doing. It allows me to mentally and physically rest and the hit reset button, and has really stopped me from hitting the dreaded burnout!

John McNaughton

Australia Colony

I'm fortunate to say that I've never reached burnout as a player, but I think that perspective has a big impact on this. For example, after WUCC 2018, I didn't really want to play frisbee for a couple of months. Some would call that burnout, but I went through that campaign knowing I would be physically and mentally drained at the end of it, and I would need an off-season, like any competitive athlete. After a break, I expected I'd be excited to come back, and that was the case. Without knowing this, that feeling fits the description of burnout quite closely.

Part of that perspective comes from experience, riding the waves of many campaigns, but you can also choose to reframe it. For me, two simple lines help:

1) "Ultimate is not all that important". I've been infinitely blessed with opportunities from what I've invested in Ultimate, but for most first-world Ultimate players, this is just a fun privilege. Over-valuing it, as I did for years, allows it to bring you down.

2) "Nobody is irreplaceable". Like many small organisations, we have many individuals who are the sole driving force in their team/club/etc. Those people really do a lot, and if they disappeared, their loss would hurt badly. However, those people will move on sooner or later, and change is part of life. They won't be replaced perfectly, but somebody else will come along, and for better or for worse, things will change. If you're one of those people, know that you don't have to do the job forever, and know that it's okay for other people to take on tasks, even if they're not as good as you. Don't stay there stoically until you collapse, sending people into damage control. Avoiding burnout is often good for everyone.

Kyle Henke

Austin Sol

I felt closest to burnout in late May of this year. The college season had just ended, the pro season was in full swing, and there came a point where I felt like I was always holding my breath. I had been pushing for better, faster and stronger both of my teammates and myself for so long. So with that, here are 3 combatants I used when it came to approaching burnout:

  1. Take advantage of opportunities to play with one-off teams. For example, I got the chance to play with a pick-up mixed team at Windmill Windup this year. Getting to play with a group that was more relationship-driven than results-driven was very refreshing, and I hope to seek out more opportunities where getting 1st isn’t the primary goal. When I can find a way to do that for every team regardless of if we have a full season or just one tournament to play, the burnout will become less dramatic.
  2. Take on a leadership position, or remove yourself from one! I built a lot of character captaining both my college and pro teams, and really enjoyed learning how to function as a player while being a leadership role. With that said, it forced me to focus less on my personal growth as a player, and more as a leader. On the contrary, playing ultimate without a specified leadership role is something I am excited for in this upcoming club season. I’m sure I’ll be ready to go back to leading and teaching once college starts back up!
  3. Speaking of teaching! There is no better way to combat burnout than to teach it. I had the opportunity to be on staff at the Texas Ultimate Summer Camp and had a BLAST getting to share the things I have learned through all the experiences that I’ve mentioned above. It can be very rewarding to spread the knowledge you have to make someone else better at something you enjoy.

Katie Metzler

Texas Showdown

I really feel that getting burnt out or getting close to it is very common in our sport. Yes, we all love playing ultimate, which is why we spend so much time, energy, and money doing it. But here in the South, we can play frisbee all year round, so there never really is an off season where you have to do something else. It is also true for those of us that play and coach college ultimate. As we are focusing on the college post season, we are also trying to prepare for the summer club season. All of this can really take a toll on someone and make it very easy to burn out. I believe it is just as important to take a break for your mental health as it is to take one for a physical injury.

The first time I remember getting burnt out was actually my 2nd year playing. I was captain of Dallas Maeve, which was only in its 2nd year of existence. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make this team the best it could be, while not actually knowing how to run a frisbee team or a lot about frisbee in general. I set really high goals because I always had high expectations of myself and teammates. I tried to read every article out there about being a good captain and how to build a successful team. One specifically that I read talked about how there is a lot of pressure put on captains, and that it was okay for them to take a break during the season. Stressed out captains are of little help to a team, so it is better for them to take a week off of frisbee (even if it is in the middle of the season) to mentally reset and come back even more focused and ready to finish out the season than to try and push through.

I have taken this advice to heart as a coach and player. Anytime I feel that I’m about to hit that wall, I take a couple of days or a week off from frisbee activities. Personally, I try to just get away and enjoy nature whether it is floating the river, camping, or just sitting outside under the stars enjoying a nice relaxing evening. Anything that can help me just reset mentally and come back focused. This really helps me play and coach as much frisbee as I want and still be focused and ready to perform at my best.