A recent scientific study showed that if you are passionate about your sport, then you are less likely to suffer 'burnout' or 'despondency'; in fact you are more likely to enjoy participating in the more mundane aspects of training to keep yourself up to speed. Tom Curran, a sports scientist of Victoria University in Melbourne, found that it is best to have a positive incentive within your mind, not an obsessive desire to win all the time. (www.abc.net.au)
Although I will only talk about sport in this article, there are benefits of having a passion for any job or hobby. Ecclesiastes 2 verse 24 (KJV) states: "There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God."
What is 'burnout'?
I was reading about this scientific study when I heard about the retirement of Michael Hussey (Australia's "Mr Cricket"). He said he was dreading the next 'away' tour, rather than anticipating it with joy. He decided the passion had gone, and it was time for him to quit.(www.thesun.co.uk)
The following Saturday, 7 January 2013, Geraldine Dooge of ABC Radio National replayed part of a discussion by a panel of entrepreneurial women, and asked them whether they were 'still having fun'. This resonated with my recent articles about why high-achieving women often opt to leave the corporate culture. (au.christiantoday.com)
The women on the panel all related changing to an entrepreneur role after some sudden change in their circumstances. One of them said 'when there is a roadblock, you find another way around' (www.abc.net.au an edited version of a panel discussion from July 2012)
This exact same situation happened to me, when I came across obstacles that caused 'heartache' and 'burnout'. I found that initiating Well-Being Australia, a fresh ministry, which provided more satisfaction for myself and my family and suited our personalities and preferred lifestyle. In my recent article about "Loneliness at the Top", I described this in more detail. (au.christiantoday.com)
On reflection, the bottom line was that I just wasn't having fun any more.
These are examples of what is colloquially termed 'Burnout', which is defined in sports by psychologists as a syndrome where sports people lose all interest in their sport, fail to meet their goals and have constant fatigue and depression.
Sports scientists identify two different types of 'passion' for sports
In their paper, Curran and his team interviewed 173 young English professional soccer trainees. From this, they identified two main ways in which these lads displayed a passion for their sport, something to help them keep going day after day.
The positive aspect was 'harmonious passion', where the soccer players were enjoying the activities associated with doing their best, but didn't let the obsession get in the way of other aspects of their lives. They maintained a balance of other activities outside sports.
On the other hand, those who exhibited negative 'obsessive passion' felt compelled to keep trying – often to win at the expense of enjoyment – and let the training and sports activities take over their lives to the exclusion of other aspects of living.
Obsessiveness did not necessarily simply lead to 'burnout', however those youths with the more positive 'harmonious' attitudes were much less likely to suffer from this affliction.
Australian swimmer Kieren Perkins made similar observations when recounting his performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Battling illness, he focussed on 'having to win' and only just made it into the finals. He later claimed that he needed to reconsider why his attitudes had changed, and remembered that, as a kid, his benchmarks were always more about whether he felt he'd done his best, not whether he won. He reinstated, in his mind, this more 'harmonious' passion and the result was a gold medal.
In an interview with George Negus in 2004, he reiterated this sentiment, adding the following exchange:
GEORGE NEGUS: ".... we're not teaching kids to play sport and to swim and to do whatever they want to do athletically for the fun of it? It's all about winning?"
KIEREN PERKINS: "Exactly. To say that we're putting too much focus on the elite end is probably oversimplifying it. Where we're falling down is that there is too much emphasis on winning. ..." . (www.abc.net.au)
Well-Being Australia (WBA) Mission provides supportive respite
The scientists found that it was not a simple relationship between the type of 'passion' and the tendency to burnout, that it was a complex interaction between personality and the environment. Talented athletes need to be supported unconditionally by coaches, friends and family - whether or not they are winning at any a particular moment during their long training. If they are to stick to it joyfully, they need be encouraged to continue a healthy and balanced lifestyle .
With my WBA respite mission, I have seen the results of positive encouragement and pastoral counselling. Many of the coaches from the Australian Institutes of Sport have seen this in their young charges, and now schedule a respite session as part of the training schedule.
Providing a supportive and restful environment as a break from constant pressure and training can certainly help some athletes to go back to their sport with more verve and vigour. Hopefully we can save some of them from the heartbreak of 'burnout'.
"A recent article has confirmed these observations and studies, and indicates that young athletes who play more sport 'just for fun' have fewer injuries than those who are more dedicated to the rigid training of just one sport. This strongly suggests that we should all take a deep breath, and go and 'play' sports for pure enjoyment, at least some of the time." (www.sciencedaily.com)
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html