Jurgen Klopp has announced he plans to step down as Liverpool manager at the end of this season. Liverpool’s most successful manager this century has led the team for the last eight and a half years and cited the relentless nature of the job and his lack of energy for the decision.
"It is that I am, how can I say it, running out of energy. I have no problem now, obviously, I knew it already for longer that I will have to announce it at one point, but I am absolutely fine now. I know that I cannot do the job again and again and again and again.”
It is powerful that Klopp feels able and willing to speak about the potential for burnout in his statement and raises important issues about professional sport.
In recent years we have seen world-leading athletes like Ben Stokes and Sergio Garcia cite the ongoing relentless nature and pressure of elite sport as reasons why they have had to take breaks from the sports that they love.
In football, player and manager welfare is a complicated conversation. As the number of games has increased for players, there has been a dramatic increase in muscular injuries. Sport at the elite level is an entertainment business and the main performers are the athletes and coaches. Governing bodies are under increasing pressure to load up their schedules with matches and tournaments, with financial necessities also driving some of this increase.
Klopp notes the treadmill of elite sport as the reason he needs a rest.
"I have to explain a little bit that maybe the job I do people see from the outside, I’m on the touchline and in training sessions and stuff like this, but the majority of all the things happen around these kind of things.
That means a season starts and you plan pretty much the next season already. When we sat there together talking about potential signings, the next summer camp and can we go wherever, the thought came up, ‘I am not sure I am here then anymore’ and I was surprised myself by that. I obviously start thinking about it.”
Klopp has the ability with his status and financial stability to take a break. Many others will not feel they are able to speak up. In a high-performance environment coaches and athletes may keep quiet rather than admit they are struggling – concerned they may be seen as weak or that they may lose their place on the team.
The fact this is being spoken about openly is a good thing. There has been more conversation around mental health and wellbeing in the last few years than before. Several sports have increased their support and speaking about workload and burnout is seen in a better light than it was before.
The Bible tells us we have all been made in the image of God and our God is one who rested (even though he is an indefatigable, unlimited God). In creation this is seen in how God rested on the seventh day and then instituted this as a pattern for his people. Then in Jesus’ life, when he took on human limitations, we regularly see him take time out from his busy ministry to rest and pray.
For our world, and thus our sport, to flourish, we need to take seriously the Biblical pattern of regular rest, whether we follow Jesus or not. We need to remember we are limited human beings (and the sports stars we watch are as well). We see ourselves fall short of that pattern of healthy rest when we don’t rest physically, we are unable to take breaks mentally and we don’t have the place to rest emotionally.
Beyond the healthy pattern outlined in the Bible for all people, in Matthew 11, Jesus says he has come to give us a greater rest:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
For those struggling with burnout, struggling to manage the relentless nature of elite sport, the invitation is there from Jesus to come to him and find rest.
Rest from the relentless need to prove yourself.
Rest from the inside and outside pressures of elite sport.
Rest from a fear of the future.
The sabbath pattern of weekly coming together as God’s people is a key part of that wherever that is possible. But like other workplaces, the world of sport needs to reckon seriously with the issue of burnout.
Jonny is the Resources and Communications Team Leader at Christians in Sport. He plays cricket at Cumnor Cricket Club and is one of the leaders of Town Church Bicester.
Image credit: Clive Rose/Getty Images Sport
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