Protect Your Child from Sports Burnout

Written by Michael W. Gish, M.D.

Burnout is another risk of overtraining. It can be viewed as a training stress syndrome and results from too much training with too little recovery. Burnout can start with what is known as “staleness,” in which an athlete has a clear drop in motivation and a plateau in performance.  Progressing beyond staleness, true burnout can develop, which has been defined as a response to chronic stress, in which a young athlete ceases to participate in a previously enjoyable activity. The young athlete may withdraw from the sport because they perceive it is not possible to meet the physical and psychological demands of the sport. 

A few warning signs of burnout are: ·         

  • Changes in emotions (e.g., irritability, moodiness, disinterest), cognitive functioning (e.g., difficulties concentrating) 
  • Decreases in strength and coordination 
  • Physiological changes (e.g., appetite loss, increased resting heart rate) 
  • Greater susceptibility to illness

Particular elements thought to contribute to burnout include: 

  • Extremely high training volumes and demands 
  • Demanding performance expectations (imposed by self or others) 
  • Personal characteristics such as perfectionism, need to please others and non-assertiveness. 

 Recommendations to minimize the risk of burnout include: 

  1. First of all, be aware of the risk of overtraining and the potential for burnout in today’s competitive sports environment. Be especially mindful during the adolescent growth spurt. 
  2. Do not play on more than one team at the same time. 
  3. Limit training time to less than 16 hours per week. 
  4. Vary training regimen and cross-train so as to provide varying stresses to your body. 
  5. Get adequate sleep and hydration (ages 6-13 should get 9-11 hrs./night; ages 14-17 should get 8-10 hrs./night) 
  6. Look for enjoyable activities other than sports for a mental diversion from the stresses of sports. 
  7. Practice stress reduction techniques such as meditation, visualization and breathing techniques.  Many apps are currently available to assist with this. 

While the level of competition in today’s sport, especially at the elite club level is high, it is key to balance the inherent training demands with time for rest and recovery. It is important to maintain a lifelong love for the “beautiful game” and stay healthy to be able to continue to play it as long as you would like. More is better continues to be emphasized in the world of sport, but the reality is that sometimes, less is more.

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Michael W. Gish, M.D.

Sports Medicine
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