The thin line between burnout and success


Sports, whichever one you play, have been glamorized greatly. We live through it, rally behind our beloved teams and players, media circulates around it, and the list goes on. For athletes, the pride that comes with recognition and being the best is relentlessly chased after. They give their all to their sports, work themselves to exhaustion every day, and spend countless weekends at tournaments for the belief that all of this will make them better athletes. It’s what’ll get them the spotlight and those trophies, right?

No. Everything previously stated made me hate my sport.

Little Lily, at the young age of five, had no idea what she was getting herself into when she picked up a tennis racket for the first time. I picked up the racket simply due to the fact that my dad played in high school. I found it enjoyable to smack foam beginner balls over the net as Bill, my first ever coach, cheered me on. I didn’t have an understanding of “burnout” or really any mental struggle for that regard. I was content as could be just hitting for fun a couple times a week and not undertaking any sort of pressure from the sport-at least not yet.

As time progressed, I began taking lessons from a former Division 1 player. I was around 11-years-old when our lessons started, and I remember it all quite vividly. At this time, I had been playing a few tournaments here and there. I took joy out of winning tiny trophies in the young age group, and it made me so happy to tell my friends that I won a tournament.

This is when the pressure began. As I grew, I started to play better players, become more involved with club hitting, and undergo strict lessons from someone who pushed me like I had never been pushed before. At every tournament, my results would be compared with the girls at my club, and it was awful to be belittled because someone did better than me.

Then, my coach moved away, and I went to a very rigorous club with some of the best players in the state. Everything there was based upon how good you were, from the way you lined up in group classes to the number of the court you were assigned to. After a couple of years of going there, as well as playing ten hours a week, my mental perception of tennis was awful. It was too much to have your self-esteem battered down to the ground every time I walked in those doors, to be forced to play nearly every day, and to get beat up by everyone else at the club. Slowly, my sport became an awful thing. That was the worst heartbreak I’d ever felt.

Thinking of your sport as a chore, merely something mandatory, is extremely detrimental to one’s mental and physical health now that I look back. Your odds of truly getting better are slimmed greatly, and it hurts you in every way regarding your sport. It’s near impossible to improve and have a drive for something if your perception of it is negative. I never enjoyed tennis in those years. It was just merely something to do. Although it was something I went to nearly daily, it was never exactly fruitful for me.

Along came COVID-19, and my life came to a halt. Combined with external pressures such as school, quarantine, and friend problems, my motivation for tennis came to an all-time low. I was tired of it. I had never felt this terrible about my sport before, and it was truly scary. Little did I know, I was “burnt out.”

That term gets thrown around a dangerous amount. To people who have never truly been burnt out before, it means something like simply being tired or having low motivation. While that defines some of it, those factors cannot shed light on the depths of that feeling. It was like a hole opened underneath me, and although I desperately tried to regain a flicker of passion for things that my life revolved around, I just kept falling.

Young athletes, oftentimes faced with a multitude of pressures from their sport, are far more susceptible to this than the typical teenager. It can feel like there is no way up, and getting out of that state is a great challenge.

If you play sports, you may have heard before that most of it is mental. If you expect to lose, you’ll lose. If you expect to win, your chances of attaining it are heightened. This is true in so many ways not only in athletics but also in every aspect of your life. Your mindset and mental perspective of things are so essential to the way your life unfolds. Ironically, it was the key for me to get back on my feet.

In came the beginning of 2022 and my life was a series of unfortunate events. I went through a breakup, my grandpa died, and those events combined with my already not-so-positive mindset made things much worse for me than they should have been. I had to pick myself up somehow, and I knew that. I even spoke about this in front of a large audience at FHC Inspires! So, I began to dabble into self-love. Starting to invest in myself was undoubtedly the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Every time a negative thought sprang into my head, I dismissed it. I began to prioritize myself, and I worked on believing that good things were coming, no matter what. After a couple of months, I felt wonderful. Everything in my life was starting to improve, and that included tennis.

As my mindset shifted in beautiful ways, tennis once again became something I loved. My perspective on tennis changed because my change in mindset was extraordinary.  I no longer awaited every match with anxiousness and fear. I knew that I could win, regardless of who was on the other side of the net. Even though I was playing every day again, I never felt the pressure I once did, and I learned to have fun in the sport. If I lost a point, game, or match, it was okay! I knew good things were coming anyway because I deserved it. I ended up having a stellar season, ending with a 20-6 record and earning the honor of all-state. I had finally found success in tennis, and today I know the only reason for that was because of a mindset change.

From those months, the biggest thing that I learned was that your mindset is so vital. It has the power to change the entire trajectory of your life. By setting goals, always staying positive, and not putting extreme amounts of pressure on myself, I was able to achieve things I never thought possible.

If you find yourself in the similar spot that I was a couple of years ago, the secret to getting up and out of it is to just invest in yourself. Take a step back, learn your boundaries, and try to enjoy every day as it comes. Remember, success is a mindset.