Burnout in Youth Sports: What Your Child Wants You to Know

The signs of burnout can be subtle and the solutions complex.

Burnout in youth sports - soccer players
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Young athletes, even the most mature and talented ones, may not be able to express their complicated feelings about burnout in youth sports. If your child could sort out all his conflicting emotions and lay them on the table, here's what he might say.

I can't always come out and say "I'm struggling." Signs of sports burnout can take many forms. Your child might be less successful than he used to be, or his performance might be wildly inconsistent.

He might fail at previously solid skills and routine drills. He might stop setting goals, or lose interest in goals he once had. He might resist going to practice or even games and competitions. Whether or not he says so out loud, he might feel like he's not helping his team.

I don't understand why I'm feeling this way. Kids who are feeling burnout in youth sports may show symptoms of stress that seem unrelated. Physical symptoms can include difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, vague or nonspecific pain, slower recovery from injuries, frequent illnesses, and fatigue. Emotional symptoms can include irritability, moodiness, trouble concentrating, depression, anger, and withdrawal.

Your expectations matter to me. Think hard about whether you're putting pressure on your child to participate in sports (or, more likely, in a certain sport in a certain way). If a child is already worrying about her own performance, trying to live up to your goals and dreams for her can lead to anxiety.

But I need challenge too. Repetitive, boring practices are not motivating. If your child doesn't feel challenged, mentally and physically, frustration sets in. And burnout can come along for the ride too.

I want to like the people I'm playing with. Your child might express feelings of burnout or wanting to quit if he doesn't have a good relationship with his coaches or teammates.

This could be a sign of a serious problem (like bullying or hazing) or just a mismatch in personalities. If it's the latter, he might just need more time to develop a connection. Talking with the coach could help, as could time and team bonding activities.

If I get hurt, you need to watch me carefully. Sometimes kids who are feeling stressed are more susceptible to injury, and sometimes an injury can increase the risk of burnout. So guard against overtraining (which can lead to overuse injuries). If your child does get injured, make sure she's fully recovered before she returns to play.

Just because I want a break doesn't mean I want to quit forever. If your child is burned out or heading in that direction, taking a breather can help. And that can take many forms, from sitting out a season to missing a practice or two. "Sometimes my daughter will start complaining about practice and I know that it is time to give her a break," says Tammy O'Keefe, mother of two competitive soccer players. "A lot of times this can be done by letting her miss an optional practice and then she is good."

I need to motivate myself. The best way to prevent burnout in youth sportsĀ is to keep your child's participation at a level he is comfortable with.

So let him set the pace. Here's how sports mom Sonia Cerza describes her change of heart on this issue: "I needed to take a step back and stop driving the sport and creating all of the opportunities ... and wait until he wanted it and asked for it. We now have a happy balance. He is much more self-motivated. He takes it upon himself now to run at night, eat healthy, and monitor his competitors. Before, it was all me."


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.

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