What is Burnout? Know the Signs & Protect Your Young Player

what is burnout?

You may be wondering, "What is burnout?" And what does it mean for my child?

Unfortunately, burnout is a sad reality in youth sports. With the multitude of after school activities kids are involved in these days, we're seeing levels of stress in young athletes and their parents that we never saw years ago.

Learn to recognize the physical symptoms of burnout so you can intervene and provide help, encouragement, and support when things start to get out of control.

What is Burnout?
What do kids want from youth sports?

Basketball is supposed to be fun. After all, it's a game

So why are so many kids showing signs of sports-related anxiety, stress, and burnout these days?

Several years ago, researchers at Michigan State University performed a study in which they asked a large number of kids what they wanted from athletic participation.

These are the responses they got:

  • To have fun
  • To improve and learn skills
  • To join friends and make new friends
  • To get excited
  • To be successful
  • To get physically fit

These are the things kids want.

But, here's the reality of what they get:

  • Of the 20 millions kids who participate in organized sports programs every year, 70% of them stop by the age of 13.
  • Most pre-teens quit sports because they are no longer having fun.
  • Kids report that sports are too competitive.

Isn't that sad?

We're seeing a phenomenon in our society that didn't exist when I was first learning how to play basketball back in the '70s.

I didn't suffer burnout because, honestly, I didn't have a whole lot of opportunity to play. There were no year-round leagues or elite traveling teams when I was young. 

There was one basketball season. And then it ended.

Then it was time to move on to something else. Maybe another sport, or maybe another extracurricular activity altogether. 

What is Burnout?
More is not always better

There seems to be this mentality in youth sports today that "more is better."

More coaching, more practices, more games, more conditioning...

As a result, we have our young kids playing constantly. They never stop.

Would you believe that some pre-high school and high school basketball players play up to 100 games a year when you combine school leagues, summer leagues, AAU tournaments, etc? That's crazy!

I don't care how much you love the game. Everyone needs a break.

Physically and mentally.

Just because a child loves basketball doesn't mean it's healthy for her to play it all the time.

What is Burnout?
Definition of burnout

Burnout is a response to continual ongoing stress. It's defined as "becoming worn out or exhausted from the long-term stress" of practicing and competing.

Burnout is not fatigue.

When athletes are physically tired, all they need is some rest to get their cardiovascular and strength levels back up to normal. Once they recover, they're as good as new.

Not so with athletes suffering stress overload and burnout.

Even after plenty of rest, they're still not able to perform or compete up to their normal standard.

Do your youngster a favor and keep your eye out for the following signs of sports-related anxiety and burnout:

What is Burnout?
Symptoms of Burnout

  • Not having fun anymore
  • Decreased interest in the sport
  • Constantly tired
  • Poor performance in sport, school, or work
  • Reduced speed, strength, or endurance
  • Mood shifts
  • Weight loss
  • Slower reflexes
  • Apparent unwillingness to talk
  • General anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Expressionless
  • Irritable

What is Burnout?
Burnout help

What can you do to help your young athlete avoid burnout?

Check out the tips below. I've also included some excellent resources in the right hand column that I know you'll find helpful. I've read several of them and highly recommend them.

Remember that more is not better

Over-training is worse than under-training. Doing too much for too long has detrimental effects on the athlete and could lead to injury or illness.

On the other hand, the worst thing under-training will do is slow down skill development so the athlete peaks a little later.

Avoid playing year-round

The best way to prevent burnout in a child who plays one sport is to mandate at least one non-playing season a year.

Say, "Enough is enough."

Give him a break whether he wants it or not. I promise it will do nothing but help his athletic career in the long run.

Don't specialize too early

Don't specialize too early in one sport.

Kids who devote all their energy to one sport miss out on other experiences they should enjoy as kids.

Childhood is the time to try new things – other sports, music, art, scouts, church groups, etc. As they get older, they'll be less likely to learn how to play other sports.

Provide a positive voice

Provide constant encouragement and support for your young player.

Coaches and parents who constantly criticize or push their kids increase the incidence of burnout.

Remember why kids play youth sports

They want to have fun, learn skills, make friends, get excited, be successful, and get physically fit.

Make sure your child's youth basketball training provides what they're looking for.


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