Burning out and fading away not the only options for young athletes

Pacing a career is one of the great challenges for any sportsperson, from beginner to veteran

Mark English on his way to setting a new Irish indoor record of 1:46.82s during the Men’s 800m at the AAI Open Indoor Games on February 2nd

Mark English on his way to setting a new Irish indoor record of 1:46.82s during the Men’s 800m at the AAI Open Indoor Games on February 2nd

Sat, Feb 8, 2014, 01:00

Better to burn out than to fade away. True servants of rock’n’roll always played to that tune, most of the great actors too, the irony these days being so many of them don’t seem to burn out or fade away.

Now it seems not even Garth Brooks himself can explain how he managed to sell out five consecutive nights in Croke Park this July. Especially given his career looked to have burned out and faded away. Is there any way of telling the difference anymore?

Then a great actor like Philip Seymour Hoffman burns himself out with such spectacular self-destruction that everyone is left wondering what might have been: his death from an apparent drug overdose in New York last Sunday prompted a worldwide lament, not just over the circumstances, or the fact he was just 46, but that it foreshortened an already brilliant career.

Yet what if Hoffman had already peaked – as we say in this business – and for all his great talent, all that was left was to begin fading away?

It’s the old imponderable that is increasingly fashionable in the sporting world, particularly when trying to distinguish between burning out and opting out, or indeed fading away and simply walking away. Because it is impossible to say for certain what comes first: in most instances, athletes keep on going for as long as they can before one or the other – the burning out or the fading away – simply brings the whole thing to a halt.

O’Driscoll’s endurance
Who could have known with any certainty that when Brian O’Driscoll scored that hat-trick of tries in Paris in 2000 that he’d be still at it, 14 seasons later? There have been several moments in the years since when O’Driscoll looked in danger of burning out, and might well have faded away when missing the 2012 season after shoulder surgery. Instead, he looks more central than ever to the chances of Ireland beating Wales this afternoon, and even if he has declared this his closing season, he still makes every game look like an act of defiance.

It’s not like rugby careers aren’t prone to some spectacular self-destruction, particularly given the increasing risk of injury. Indeed these days, the game at schools’ cup level looks like creating the perfect storm for young players burning out, which in many cases they do. There’s nothing wrong with a healthy dose of competition at school level, no matter what the sport, and it is where most champions are first bred. The strongest, such as O’Driscoll, will invariably survive.

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