Jurgen Klopp is stepping down as Liverpool manager after eight and a half years in charge, saying that he is “running out of energy”. The pressures of performance and schedules are not just restricted to elite sport, says Jonny Reid. We all need to learn how to rest in God

Jurgen Klopp

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After eight and a half years in charge, the manager of Liverpool Football Club (LFC), Jurgen Klopp, has announced that he plans to step down at the end of this season. LFC’s most successful gaffer this century cited the relentless nature of the job and his lack of energy for it as the reasons for his decision.

“It is that I am - how can I say it? Running out of energy. I have no problem now, obviously, I knew…that I will have to announce it at one point. 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 particularly, and life and leadership more generally.

Stepping off the treadmill

In recent years, we have seen world-class athletes, such as 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 professions they love.

We need to take the Biblical pattern of regular rest seriously, whether we follow Jesus or not

In football, like many other professional sports, player and manager welfare is a complicated conversation. Elite sport is an entertainment business, and the main characters are the athletes and coaches. Governing bodies are under pressure to load up their schedules with more and more matches and tournaments, with financial necessity (or greed!) often driving the increase. But as the number of games have increased, there has been a dramatic increase in muscular injuries.

Klopp, who is himself a Christian, notes that the ‘treadmill’ of elite sport is one reason he now 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. I was surprised myself by that. I obviously start thinking about it.”

Speaking out

Klopp has the status and financial stability to take a break, but many others may not feel 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 might lose their place on the team.

The thought came up: I am not sure I am here then anymore. I was surprised myself by that

The fact this is being spoken about openly is a good thing. 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 on earth, when he took on human limitations, we regularly see him take time out from his busy ministry to rest and pray.

A greater rest

For our world to flourish, we need to take the biblical pattern of regular rest seriously. We see ourselves fall short of that pattern of healthy rest when we don’t rest physically, we are unable to take breaks mentally or 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 or managing 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 performance.

Rest from a fear of the future.

The Sabbath pattern of coming together weekly as God’s people is a key part of that. But like other workplaces - including our churches - the world of sport needs to reckon seriously with the issue of burnout.