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4/18/22blog post

how to avoid burnout in young athletes

Life feels normal (or normal-ish) for the first time in two years and for many families that means a return to sports and packed schedules. Baseball on Tuesdays and Thursdays, soccer on Mondays and Wednesdays, games on the weekend. Sound familiar?

While it may feel like we’re making up for lost time by having our kids hyper-involved in sports, it’s important to be mindful of overscheduling or overtraining which can lead to burnout.

what is burnout?
All sports have a risk of burnout, which the National Athletic Trainers Association defines as, “a response to chronic stress of continued demands in a sport or activity without the opportunity for physical and mental rest and recovery.” Because of the pandemic, many families and coaches are pushing athletes hard to make up for lost seasons and practices, but that added pressure may cause kids to burn out of their sport before they even get a chance to really get started.  

how do I know if my child is experiencing burnout from their sport?
Burnout can be difficult to measure but, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) it is thought to occur in between 1% and 9% of adolescent athletes. Symptoms may include:

  • Decreased sports and/or school performance
  • Chronic muscle or joint pain
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of enthusiasm or ambition
  • Difficulty completing usual routines

what do I do if my child is experiencing burnout from their sport?
Getting substantial rest and taking a break from their sport is the best way to recover from burnout. Time away from your child’s sport will depend on a few factors, such as type of sport, level of competition and severity of their symptoms. As a rule, kids shouldn't play the same sport more than 8 months out of the year and no more than 10 months total when playing organized sports, which includes club sports, sports accleration and personal training programs.

what can parents do to keep sports fun?
At the end of the days, involvement in sports should be fun! So, what can parents do to keep it that way?  The AAP encourages parents to keep the following recommendations in mind when considering sports for their child:

  • Allow young children to play a variety of sports. Studies show that children develop best when playing different types of sports before puberty. They also are less likely to lose interest or drop out.
  • Wait until after age 15 or 16 to allow your child to specialize in a sport. Elite athletes who explored a variety of sports and specialized later were more likely to be successful, according to recent studies. Those who trained in one sport at a young age had shorter athletic careers.
  • Avoid sports injuries by not allowing kids to tr​ain more hours per week than their age. The AAP advises to rest one to two days per week and take at least three months off during the year in one-month increments from their sport.
  • Think about why you or your child wants to specialize. Is it for success in college? About 3-11% of high school athletes compete at a college level, and only 1% receive an athletic scholarship.
  • Keep an eye on your child's health. Growing athletes need more calories from foods high in iron, calcium and vitamin D. Teen girls should watch for problems caused by overtraining, like missed periods.

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Lora Scott, MD

program director sports medicine
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