Over the years, youth sports have become increasingly intense. Between learning about the impressive salaries of pro athletes and potential athletic scholarships being viewed as the ticket to change lives, parents and young athletes feel the pressures of excelling in sports.
Because of this, sports burnout has become a condition that is on the rise. Unfortunately, it is tricky to detect. Unlike a physical injury, the emotional symptoms related to sports burnout are hard to recognize. Kids who are experiencing it may not even know they are burned out as it is something that has built up over years of constant competition and over-training.
Who is most at risk?
Kids who specialized in sports early on and focused on one sport are at risk of burnout or over-training. It can also happen to children who participate in overlapping seasons without intervals that would otherwise allow them to rest. Or they may play just one sport yet compete on multiple teams during the season.
Children who are also extremely ambitious and intensely driven to succeed are likely to burn themselves out. However, burnout can also happen to kids who suffer low self-esteem and live with anxiety.
Typically, kids don’t initially make the decision to overwhelm themselves with over-training. Often, they are pressured by their parents or their coaches who expect them to compete at the highest level.
Is my child showing signs of burnout or over-training?
Over-training syndrome or burnout is the result of multiple factors which include heightened levels of emotional stress, immune system failure, insufficient recovery time, or fatigue. The athlete’s performance worsens despite the extensive, intense training.
Athletes who experience burnout will go through many changes that psychological, physiological, or hormonal in nature. These include:
- Mood changes
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Decreased sports or school performance or both
- Loss of pride
- Risky behavior
- Weight loss
- Increased injuries
- Chronic joint or muscle pain
- Sleeping problems
- Unable to complete usual routines
Is burnout avoidable? Is it treatable?
To reduce the chance of burnout, take a step back and acknowledge if your child’s sports history put them at risk. Take your young athlete aside and ask them how they feel about the level of training. Encourage them to open up on whether they are experiencing pressure to perform.
If your child is showing signs of burnout, talk to them about the condition and how it is recommended that they decrease their workload. Ask them about what motivates them. Have a specialist assess treatment for any injuries they may have and make arrangements for rehabilitation.
What is most important when a child starts to exhibit signs of over-training or burnout is to create a loving and supportive environment.