Symptoms of Burnout in Athletes

symptoms of burnout

Burnout is a sad reality in youth sports.

Look out for the physical symptoms of burnout in your young athlete, so you can intervene and provide help, encouragement, and support when things get tough.

Basketball is supposed to be fun. After all, it's a game.

So why are so many kids showing signs of sports-related anxiety, stress, and burnout these days?

Several years ago, researchers at Michigan State University performed a study in which they asked a large number of kids what they wanted from athletic participation.

These are the responses they got:

  • To have fun
  • To improve and learn skills
  • To join friends and make new friends
  • To get excited
  • To be successful
  • To get physically fit

These are the things kids want. But do you know what they get?

  • Of the 20 millions kids who participate in organized sports programs every year, 70% of them stop by the age of 13.
  • Most pre-teens quit sports because they are no longer having fun.
  • Kids report that sports are too competitive.

Isn't that sad?

We're seeing a phenomenon in our society that didn't exist when I was first learning how to play basketball back in the '70s.

I didn't have symptoms of burnout because I didn't have a whole lot of opportunity to play. There were no year-round leagues or elite traveling teams when I was young. There was one basketball season, and then it ended, and it was time for something else.

Staying in the Game: Combating Athlete Burnout

There seems to be this mentality in youth sports today that "more is better."

More coaching, more practices, more games, more conditioning...

As a result, we have our young kids playing constantly. They never stop.

Whose Game is it, Anyway?

Would you believe that some pre-high school and high school basketball players play up to 100 games a year when you combine school leagues, summer leagues, AAU tournaments, etc? That's crazy!

I don't care how much you love the game. Everyone needs a break.

Just because a child loves basketball doesn't mean it's healthy for her to play it all the time.

Burnout is a response to continual on-going stress. It's defined as "becoming worn out or exhausted from the long-term stress" of practicing and competing.

Burnout is not fatigue.

When athletes are physically tired, all they need is some rest to get their cardiovascular and strength levels back up to normal. Once they recover, they are as good as new.

Not so with athletes experiencing burnout.

Even after plenty of rest, they are still not able to perform or compete up to their normal standard.

Do your young athlete a favor and keep your eye out for the following signs of sports-related anxiety and burnout.

Symptoms of Burnout

  • Not having fun anymore
  • Decreased interest in the sport
  • Constantly tired
  • Poor performance in sport, school, or work
  • Reduced speed, strength, or endurance
  • Mood shifts
  • Weight loss
  • Slower reflexes
  • Apparent unwillingness to talk
  • General anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Expressionless
  • Irritable

What can you do to help your young athlete avoid symptoms of burnout? I've also included some excellent resources that I know you'll find helpful. I've read several of them and highly recommend them.

Raising an Athlete: How to Instill Confidence, Build Skills and Inspire a Love of Sport

Remember that more is NOT better.

Over-training is worse than under-training. Doing too much for too long has detrimental effects on the athlete and could lead to injury or illness.

On the other hand, the worst thing under-training will do is slow down skill development so the athlete peaks a little later.

Parenting Young Athletes: Developing Champions in Sports and Life

The best way to prevent burnout in a child who plays one sport is to mandate at least one non-playing season a year.

Say, "Enough is enough."

Give him a break whether he wants it or not. I promise it will do nothing but help his athletic career in the long run.

A to Z Guide To Raising Happy, Confident Kids

Don't specialize too early in one sport.

Kids who devote all their energy to one sport miss out on other experiences they should enjoy as kids.

Childhood is the time to try new things – other sports, music, art, scouts, church groups, etc. As they get older, they will be less likely to learn how to play other sports.

Bring Your A Game: A Young Athlete's Guide to Mental Toughness

Provide constant encouragement and support for your young player. 

Coaches and parents who constantly criticize or push their kids increase the incidence of burnout.

Overcome symptoms of burnout & feelings of defeat

Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports

Remember why kids play sports.

They want to have fun, learn skills, make friends, get excited, be successful, and get physically fit.

Make sure your child's youth basketball training provides what they're looking for.


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