Shouts from the Stands: The Reality of Athlete Burnout

by SwimSwam 6

June 19th, 2018 College, Lifestyle, Opinion

SwimSwam welcomes reader submissions about all topics aquatic, and if it’s well-written and well-thought, we might just post it under our “Shouts from the Stands” series. We don’t necessarily endorse the content of the Shouts from the Stands posts, and the opinions remain those of their authors. If you have thoughts to share, please send [email protected].

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Viktoria Ramkvist:

t took me a while before I was ready to share what I went through my Junior year of college. My two first years as a D1 athlete were hard and challenging, but I somehow pushed through it despite injuries and anxiety. But then my body and mind finally gave up on me. Screaming STOP in every way possible.

It started out physically, but I thought it was normal. We swim 20 hours each week, of course my body is going to get tired. But what I experienced was more than just the average soreness and fatigue. My body did not recover, I grew weaker instead of stronger in the weight room, no amount of sleep could make me feel well rested. And on top of all of this, my injuries that I had accumulated my first two years got worse and worse to a point where the only solution was to take a break.

When I came back after two weeks out of the pool, my body kept trying to tell me that something was wrong. But I was going to push through it. That Monday afternoon I had my first panic attack during practice. All I remember was how my body just gave in, it could not pull me forward anymore and I had to stop. Later that week, another panic attack. This time bad enough to make me lose my sense of touch in my hands, face and feet. This time, bad enough, to a point where I thought it was all over.

Time went on, I was losing weight, could not eat. I fell deeper and deeper into some form of darkness that I could not get out of, not even with the help of my friends and family.

It wasn’t until my athletic trainer who had been tracking my descending health mentioned “athlete burnout” that we could start connecting the dots.

Two and a half years of twenty hour practice weeks, early mornings, doubles, and school on top of that, had finally taken its toll on me. However, athlete burnout and student-athletes’ mental health in general is not something that is brought up to us. We don’t know the signs, we don’t know when to stop. All of our lives we have put in work, blood, tears and joy into the sport that brought us to college in the first place. Why would we stop now? Why would our body and mind not be able to take four more years of it?

My burnout unfortunately led to an early retirement at the end of my Junior year. After a long break, alternative workouts and time off, I was still not able to recover well enough to come back to the sport that I love so much, which is why I am now writing this piece.

To my fellow student-athletes, take care of yourselves. Push your bodies, but also listen to it. Contrary to popular belief, there is a limit, and it is not a limit that you want to pass.

To all the coaches that might read this, educate yourselves and your athletes. Look out for your athletes. Let them rest, let them recover both mentally and physically, and if someone is showing signs of athlete burnout, help them. Because no one wants to be taken away from the sport that they love too early.


About Viktoria Ramkvist

I’m a rising senior, from Sweden, at Old Dominion University. Coming from a swimmer family, I was in the pool at a young age and developed a love for the sport early on. I competed in sprint free and fly for ODU for 2,5 years before it was time to retire but my love for swimming still lives on and I aspire to become a coach once I am done with college.

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6 years ago

Thank you for sharing your story.

6 years ago

Thank you Viktoria, for sharing your story. In my LSC, we have nine and ten year olds who swim an intense 2 hour high yardage practice 6 or 7 days a week. I think that it is too much for them to do that at such a young age. I feel like they will experience burn out very early. My kids aren’t as good as those kids. Maybe I am doing something wrong. I try to stress technique and a balance life, swim a few days, play another sports, smell the roses, have days to go out to eat and play. I guess it’s hard to be on this team because the coach seems to like that such young kids… Read more »

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Reply to  balancedlife
6 years ago

From my experience, kids shouldn’t be doing 2 hr. practices that many times per week until the end of middle school or start of high school. 12 & Unders can probably still achieve their swimming goals (even ‘AAAA’ times) with 5 practices a week, as long as they are being mindful about their practices and looking at their technique. Hope this helps.

Reply to  balancedlife
6 years ago

This is actually a difficult subject because of different types of parenting. In addition to coaching high school swimming I am the lead coach of the 9-10 year olds on my club team. I have a very high achieving group of swimmers to the point I currently have 4 boys with multiple zone cuts, two of whom have AAAA cuts with a third almost there (from a group of 24 9-10 year olds this Summer). We practice only 4 times a week (3 if there is a meet). Generally the practices that I run are about 1800 to 2400 in yardage, but I don’t write practices with totaling yards. I focus mostly on drilling and speedwork. I am stating this… Read more »

Reply to  SwimCoach
6 years ago

As a swimmer who swam from age 8 though college and now a father of a swimmer/soccer player I have seen it all with parents. From the intense demanding parent, to the ones that drop off and never see their kids compete. The parent/child relationship is tricky and is very individualized. How do you make sure your kids know you will support them as well as give them space to fail/succeed on their own account? I don’t think there is one approach that is one size fits all. Frankly, the best coaches are ones that tread lightly into the parental relationships and encourage communication between parents, child and coach.

My son has been lucky with his swim coaches. They… Read more »

Reply to  balancedlife
6 years ago

US Swimming has guidelines. Might want to check with US Swimming on their guidelines. But, in short, no way should kids that young be swimming that much. 3 times a week is enough. 1 hour or 1 hour and 15 minutes is a good practice. For the future, when your kids are into puberty and have the body changes, then it is time to crank up the workouts if they are mentally ready. My son’s team uses age 13 as a benchmark, but it should be individualized according to where each child is emotionally and physically.