Overcoming Sports Burnout

Beating sports burnout usually means taking a break, but what kind of break?

Overcoming sports burnout - take a breather
A little sideline-sitting can be a good thing.. Alistair Berg / Digital Vision / Getty Images

If your child is feeling overwhelmed by youth sports, she may need your help in preventing or overcoming sports burnout. Burnout usually happens in a progressive way. First come the demands of youth sports, like pressure to perform and master new skills, and a lack of participation in decisions. 

Next, these demands can begin to feel overwhelming. This is more likely if kids specialize in one sport too early, overtrain, or never have time for other activities.

It can also result from a lack of positive feedback from coaches or parents. Kids who are anxious, not assertive, have low self-esteem, or who are perfectionist can be more susceptible to burnout.

Then, you may see signs of burnout. Your athlete's skills may regress, or she might be uncooperative or irritable at practice. She may show less motivation to compete. At home, you might notice moodiness, fatigue, a loss of appetite, or vague aches and pains.

Smart Ways to Overcome Sports Burnout

The best medicine for burnout is usually a break. The trick is finding out what kind will work (which might take some trial and error). Options include:

  • A breather: Skip an optional practice or extra game.
  • A rollback: Work with your child's coach to reduce the number of weekly practices or games he participates in.
  • Sports-specific limits: For example, enforcing pitch counts in baseball, or reducing the number of events your child participates in at swim meets.
  • A sabbatical: Sit out a season, with the intent to return; skip off-season leagues and summer camps. Cross-train to work new muscles.

Cutting back like this might stop burnout in its tracks. But if it doesn't, you might need to take a bigger step, like having your child switch to a different coach, team, or sport that's more compatible.

Ideally, the focus should be on skill development and personal goals rather than winning.

It's also important to focus on wellness as part of your stop-burnout strategy. Make sure your child is getting enough rest and eating healthy foods that give him energy instead of slowing him down. Help him learn to listen to his own body when it tells him he needs mental or physical rest.

Otherwise, your child could continue to experience burnout and sustain an injury—or lose interest in his sport entirely.

How to Stop Burnout Before It Starts

For Tammy O'Keefe, who has two daughters playing competitive soccer, downtime during the season is important. "In season, I don't make the girls exercise or play outside on their days off. I don't nag them about electronics (if their homework is done, of course) on these days. This really seems to help. They don't have much free time on soccer days so it balances out and they are happier."

Another mom, Gail O'Connor, let her daughter sit out the fall swim season.

"She knows that will not make her faster come spring," O'Connor says. "But she doesn't care. She wants more time to try tap dancing, and for playdates. Might this set her back? Will she be angry with me later, for not pushing her harder? Maybe. Or, maybe she'll continue to like swimming because I didn't force her to do it all the time," says O'Connor (once a competitive swimmer herself).

Sonia Cerza has four children, including three boys who competed in wrestling. She and her husband encouraged their kids to stick with just one sport after their sophomore year in high school. This frees up their time in the summer and their sport's off-season. It's a "balance that seems to work," Cerza says.

Lifelong athlete and father of two Tim Kulka is a firm believer in cross-training. "When kids played more than one sport, effectively there was no off season—but playing different sports uses different muscles." Participating in complementary sports helps your child learn new skills and build different strengths. For example, says Kulka, soccer is a team sport that requires ball-handling skills and leg strength from running, while swimming is more of an individual sport, works the whole body and is lower-impact.


Brenner, JS, and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness: Clinical Report: Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. Pediatrics Vol. 119 No. 6 June 1, 2007; reaffirmed August 25, 2014.

DiFiori JP. Evaluation of overuse injuries in children and adolescents. Current Sports Medicine Reports vol. 9, no. 6, November/December 2010.

DiFiori JP, Benjamin HJ et al. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine vol. 24, no. 1, January 2014.

Continue Reading