Burn out by Fiona Mernagh

Being mentally and physically fatigued can lead to the feeling that you're totally "burned out"; here we discuss ways to avoid burn out

Burn out is a common occurrence in high level sport. I spent years listening to women complain at the end of a season how sick of Ultimate they are and specifically how ‘burnt out’ they are. I couldn’t understand why they kept doing something that seemed to make them miserable but that they loved at the same time. To steal a line from Sheryl Crow, ‘if it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?’

High effort, low reward

The mental pressure and fatigue I think came from a lot of effort, with little reward. Irish women’s clubs took a very long time to get to the status that Rebel and Gravity have produced in recent years. So the best players would be training extremely hard while also putting the whole community on their backs. When results weren’t satisfying, there wasn’t necessarily a feeling that it was worth it. Before 2019, the highest Irish women finished was 9th in Europe, and on top of that the Irish women’s community was not getting any bigger or more self-sustaining. This was a perpetuating cycle – the best players would spend all their time focusing on the high level end of playing and trying to help those 20 or so players predominantly, then when the season ended they’d be so burnt out they wouldn’t want to see a frisbee until the new year… unless they were in college, in which case they felt forced to play the lowest level of Ultimate and struggle through with low numbers.

It’s a common theme in successful elite athletes to always be thinking of the ‘next’ thing, even right after winning something. This however, is not necessarily the natural mentality for everyone, especially in a young small sport like Ultimate.

My current theory is that they were lacking the ability to manage their expectations and balance their energy resources.

Fiona relaxing at Windmill 2019

Fiona relaxing at Windmill 2019

On a systemic level, there was too much pressure on every athletic female player to play for the Irish national team because there couldn’t be a team without them. They also would have basically had no regular or competitive Ultimate without the national team to play on, which also would have been where all their friends were playing. I think prioritising national teams has been detrimental to Ireland’s progress in Ultimate. We won EUC 2019 in part I believe because we had been working for 2 years to sort out our domestic scene before that. It’s still far from perfect but sporting success doesn’t require perfection thankfully!

Building a domestic scene

The way we worked on women’s Ultimate was to form one Dublin community and to get along with the Cork female playing community: these were the two biggest hubs in Ireland for women. In the past, both Dublin clubs (Dublin Gravity, formerly LMS, and Jabba) struggled through the season competing to draw from the same pool of resources. Lacking proper home grounds or a natural sense of geographical belonging, one club could end up with the majority of college players on their roster. BUT the majority of college players weren’t really that committed to the idea of playing with a club so training numbers weren’t necessarily good for either team. There was some fear and frankly, selfishness, on both sides and it took some growing up to move on and realise that we could do better if we came together.

Thus, Gravity formed as the one Dublin women’s club with the intention of providing well structured training and a competitive outlet for all committed players in Dublin. Rebel were a little outmatched for depth initially but well able to produce some standout players over the years to continue competing for the top spot in all women’s events in Ireland. The future for Dublin Women’s Ultimate should be to branch out and form more clubs with different interests so we can cater for all types of players without compromise. We hope to see similar in Cork.

It’s not just the previous generation of female players that I’ve seen the issue of burnout with – some current players also struggle to find their drive with a big season ahead of them. I’ve even seen it at the end of an U24 season too. I think it’s a massive shame to spend so much time, money and effort on something only to have regrets about it. We can’t control everything about the teams we play with but we can greatly influence our own situation and minds.

Managing your mental health

In order to keep your interest in the game for longer I think you need to be able to manage your own personal satisfaction and mental health first and foremost.

Two key ways I suggest for doing this are to:



Also in Coaches Corner:


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