Burnout in Youth Sports

by David G.

Burnout in youth sports can be a deciding factor in ending participation in physical activity and sport. Physical activity is very import to youth development not only because it allows them to improve their physical and mental well-being but also gives them a safe environment during the afterschool hours. Burnout can be understood as social, psychological and sometimes physical withdrawal from sport or activity brought on by chronic stress. It’s important for sport and recreation professionals to understand where the main sources of burnout are found and how we can prevent burnout in youth.

Parents and coaches play an important role in the development of youth athletes. The parents facilitate the activity while the coaches develop the athletes and the program. Parents and coaches must be careful with their youth athlete and how they implement training schedules. It’s common to see training schedules mimic that of professional sports program which will factor into increased stress on the athletes therefore increasing the risk of burnout. Stress can be brought on from both internal and external factors. Athletes may face pressure to perform from coaches, parents and program leaders as well as face internal pressure to perform. Balance in a youth athlete’s life should be prioritized over performance as this will give the athlete a chance to take a break from the potential demanding pressure of sport.

Preventing burnout can be done by the structure of the program implemented by the coaching staff. During their work on burnout in youth athletes, it was found that how the program leaders coach plays an important role “The main findings of this study suggest that a perceived mastery (task-involving) climate created by coaches may play a protective effect against burnout in youngsters, whereas a perceived performance (ego-involving) climate may lead to burnout” (Vitali, Bortoli, Bertinato, Robazza & Schena 2015 p.106). By focusing on developing skills instead of performance the athlete will be less likely to drop out of the sport. This task mastery focus also increases the athlete’s perceived competence which also can be a factor in burnout prevention.

It’s important for us as sport and recreation professionals to be aware of the issue of burnout. Youth sport is supposed to be a positive experience for athletes, coaches, parents as well as the community but also has the potential to be a destructive action for the youth. By focusing too much on performance and outcome, we can increase stress on our athletes. It is important to educate parents and coaches on the issue of burnout and prevention tips including the structure of practice and balance in youth’s lives.

Vitali, F., Bortoli, L., Bertinato, L., Robazza, C., & Schena, F. (2014). Motivational climate, resilience, and burnout in youth sport. Sport Sciences for Health, 103-108.

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7 Responses to Burnout in Youth Sports

  1. danielleunb says:

    This is a great post David, and I completely agree with you. We see this issue on the rise throughout all aspects of youth sport. In class we discussed a bit about the concept of ‘the over-scheduled child’ and how there are negative aspects that tie into that, athlete burn out being one of them. I think it is important that this issue is addressed by coaches and recreational professional because we want youth participation in sport and recreation to grow because as we know it is diminishing. If young athletes are already experiencing the effects of burn out already in their career, then chances are their participation will not be long term.
    As you mentioned, we are starting to have a performance orientated outlook on youth sport and not focusing so much on the other important aspects, like fun and learning through sport as we once were. We need to be reminding coaches, recreational leaders and especially parents that there are other lessons to be taught within participation in sport other than maximizing performance, this again will play a role in minimizing athlete burn out as they will be having fun and not feel that their sole purpose is to win.

  2. danibhawk says:

    Great blog David! I completely agree with you in regards to physical activity being important to youth by allowing them to improve on their physical and mental well-being, as well as giving them a safe environment. I believe it is very important for everyone to understand the burnout in youth sports, in particular parents and coaches. When we watched the documentary “Lost Adventures of Childhood”, in class, it looked at the micro-managing of youth by parents, and discussed how youth are dropping out of sports by the age of 13. Many of the professionals during this documentary discussed how today’s youth, at such a young age are becoming stressed, which in turn, is causing them to burnout. I think you are 100 percent correct, that balance in a youth’s life should be a priority. I also agree with you that as recreational professionals, we should try and show youth that sport is a positive experience, and should be enjoyed. Overall, burnout is not decreasing, but it is increasing in today’s youth, and parents, coaches, and recreation and sport instructors need to see the negative affect it is having on youth.
    -Danielle H

  3. Oliver J says:

    Nice post David.

    I also agree with you that burnout can be one of the major factors in why youth drop out of sports and the reason for the declining numbers of participation in youth sport and recreation. You made a great point about how parents and coaches can be some of the best influential characters for youth development, but at the same time I believe that they can also be the complete opposite and help toward burnout. In class we watched a documentary in which part of it focused on a family where a child was involved in a different sport everyday. She had very supportive parents, who only wanted the best for her, but you could see the stress it was placing on the young girl. she even mentioned that she had little social time and had to complete all of her homework while traveling in between sports. This here is an example of an over scheduled child and something that parents need to be aware of. although they just want the best or her, they need to schedule some free time for her so that she can socialize with people out side of sport. Growing up I had a very supportive family and they would take me all over the country just to play soccer, although I love the sport I play, I understand some of the girls frustrations in not leading a “normal child life” and see why burnout happen for children who are not fully committed to that sport.

    The only point I disagreed with you on was the focusing on sill development rather than performance. I believe that at a young age you either have potential or you don’t. Some youth are going to be naturally good at a sport and some will not. I believe that you should have a balance between task mastery and performance based training so that children get the best of both worlds. However, I do agree and believe that all of this is determined by the coach and leaders and ultimately they determine, b their sessions, whether or not youth can develop the necessary skills to enjoy the sport, become elite players, and avoid burning out, leading to dropping out of that sport.

  4. peryan2015 says:

    Great job on the post Dave, really hit the nail on the head. I think that people don’t understand burnout as much as we should. As you said not only is it brought upon by stress, ridiculous scheduling, and others have mentioned micro-managing parents, but it can also be brought upon by the repetitive nature of youth sport today. In the documentary we watched in class, they made an interesting point about free play and how kids struggle with organizing and developing their own ways to play, without the structure of adults surrounding them. Burnout can also happen through a lack of this free play combined with a recurring sport or sports. I believe that even kids that merely play one sport can develop burnout, even if the schedule is not demanding. Single sport specialization can increase burnout opportunities because it doesn’t allow children to explore different opportunities, or sports in our case, and could become “old” to some kids. All together, we can make the conclusion that because of the lack of free play in recent years, burnout has become a trending issue that needs to be addressed.

  5. amurchi1 says:

    Great post on a topic that is becoming more prevalent in today’s society!!! During Wednesday’s class we watched parents’ micromanage every aspect of their sports, but the one question they failed to ask their child is: are you having fun? While suffering from burnout is a serious issue so is having unhappy children. I think parents and coaches alike should know the warning signs. The signs range from sports performance changes, emotional and attitude changes and or health changes. Every child can exhibit different signs of a burnout at various stages of their athletic career.

    Check out the signs and symptoms found at: http://www.drdavidgeier.com/signs-child-youth-sports-burnout-kids/

    Along the lines of burn out in youth sport there is also the notion of peak performance and a plateau. With any sport you have a rapid increase of skill level and talent until they hit their peak performance (at the time). After this abrupt halt to their athletic ability athletes hit a plateau. Many athletes tend to quit at this time as practices become monotonous and unfulfilling as they are no longer improving the skills they have already learned. How do we help these types of athletes? The athletes who are still enjoying their sport but cannot succeed anymore… Change. Change is good for both an athlete on the brink of a burn out or someone who is stuck in a plateau. Change practice up and participate in other smaller sports like intramurals to benefit your current sport and your attitude. For example when I hit a plateau in synchronized swimming I took gymnastic classes to grow in other aspects of my sport, but out of the water all together.

    Check out the article on how cyclists deal with hitting a plateau: http://cyclingpsychology.com/breaking-through-a-plateau/

  6. lucyparkin says:

    Great post David!
    I definitely agree with you in regards to burnout being a major factor for youth dropping out. I also think it could be a reason as to why participation numbers are no longer increasing, purely because in today’s generation much of the focus tends to be on succeeding, becoming the best, rather than the taking part. You made a great point about sports being essential for youth to develop both mentally and physically, which in turn should be the biggest reason for youth to participate at a younger age.

    As Oliver mentioned, coaches and parents can be some of the most influential people in a youths life, they quite often become the role model to youth involved in sports. However, as seen in the documentary in class, this can often go the other way, and the parents become far too involved, and seem to micromanage every move the child makes. Despite the parents intentions being in the girls best interest, it was clear that the multiple sports, ridiculous scheduling, along with homework and little time for social events put an unnecessary strain on the child. This being said, I couldn’t agree more with what you said about balance in a child’s life. It is becoming evident that burnout is not decreasing within today’s sports, therefore, actions need to address this issue to help balance youths schedules, and allow for their enjoyment. Their enjoyment, and mental and physical development should be the priority of youth development, rather than their ability to become the next potential ‘big thing’ at such a young age.

  7. Awesome post Dave! This is a topic I personally have not put much thought into till now. Throughout my life I haven’t been a very competitive person when playing sports. I have played on varsity teams in the past but always put having a good time before anything else. That being said, I have played many sports due to this and have tried to find that sport I could be competitive in but still have not. With that, I have seen individuals leave sports teams due to being burnt out. This happening at such an early part of your life is very discouraging and makes you think about how things would have been for that individuals if this did not happen. The opportunities that are lost because of being burnt out has a major effect on POD. As you have said above stress is usually an effect of this which majorly affects the mental health of an individual. Having these issues at such a young age should be unheard and it needs to be more and more common. Coaches need to understand that each individual is different and should be treated in a way that they will be most successful. Some individuals may be able to take more strain than others, and being able to determine this is an important skill for coaches to have. Competitive sport is seen everywhere and it is great to see athletes participating, but things such as learning to cope with stress may be important to implicate into these sports to help the future of these athletes.

    Great post David!

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