How to Avoid Burnout in Youth Athletes
Participating in sports can teach kids countless life lessons. But too much of anything can lead to burnout, and kids are just as susceptible as adults. Here’s what parents and coaches can do to keep kids in the game — both physically and mentally.
The Dangers of Overtraining
To help young athletes excel, many parents seek out year-round sports opportunities. Between school leagues, community programs and club teams, kids can play their favorite sport all year long.
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While all that training can help hone their skills, it also places a physical burden on children. Overtraining is one of the most common factors in kids’ sports injuries. And for those who are still growing (which typically continues into the teen years), there’s a risk of damaging the growth plates — and that can have long-term consequences.
Plus, kids who overdo it with their sport of choice might become mentally fatigued by it and not want to return to athletics at all. This can put them at risk for inactivity (and the health issues that come with a sedentary lifestyle) later in life.
What Parents Can Do
Parents play a critical role in preventing burnout. Help protect your child from overtraining by following these three rules.
- Be realistic about schedules. If you’re tired of shuffling your young athlete from practice to practice and game to game, imagine how she feels. A schedule that involves multiple leagues is hard on kids’ bodies and brains. Everyone needs downtime (never mind time for homework and other responsibilities).
- Encourage off-season rest. There’s a reason for an off-season. The body needs a break — yes, even young bodies. So encourage kids to take the time off. If they want to stay active, suggest they choose a different sport to avoid repetitive motions.
- Lighten up. Everyone wants their kid to be the best, but be mindful of pushing too hard. If the game stops being fun, a young athlete might bail on the sport. Remember why they play, and encourage a healthy relationship with the activity.
What Coaches Can Do
Coaches have a role to play in preventing burnout and overtraining, too. No matter what ages or sport you’re coaching, you can help your youth athletes stay safe and healthy.
- Recommend cross-training. If kids are eager to play during the off-season, help them find a different sport. This allows them to stay active, while minimizing risk of injury or burnout.
- Encourage fun. If practices and games aren’t fun and stimulating, young players can lose their motivation, which contributes to mental burnout.
- Don’t be afraid to bench a player. Never overplay a single player, and pay attention to league recommendations for rest. If young athletes appear to be too tired or trying to fight through an injury, teach them to listen to their bodies — and have them sit out. Playing through pain is dangerous and unnecessary at any level of play.