Sports burnout is a very real condition, even if it isn’t an official mental health disorder. As youth sports have become more intense over the years, increasingly more kids have experienced sports burnout symptoms that can impact mood state, anxiety levels, stress-coping responses, and interactions with family, teammates, and friends. Additionally, kids who become burned out from sports may experience shifts in eating, sleeping, and even dips in grades. In worst-case scenarios, kids burned out from sports may even quit sports prematurely as a means of regaining control of their lives and getting away from the pressures they feel through sports.
Types of sport burnout
While it may be difficult to detect sports burnout since it’s an emotional experience and not as obvious as physical injuries, there are still signs you can identify if you are paying attention. There are also two types of sports burnout that I have dealt with at my practice that might help as you look to assess your child’s situation. The first type of sports burnout is the long, cumulative experience sports burnout that most people recognize. In these examples, kids become burned out over years of playing competitive sports often with little or no breaks throughout the year. Kids who experience this type of burnout may not even know they are burned out from sports since it happens very slowly over time, and the stress of sports often gets snubbed out because of the enthusiasm others have for the kid playing sports.
A second, less widely recognized type of burnout is what I cal the short-burst sports burnout where kids play an intense sports schedule over a relatively short period of time. For this type of burnout you might think of an incredibly busy summer sports travel season where kids are seemingly living their sport 24/7 with little, if any, time left over for non-sport activities and interests.
Sport burnout warning signs
Regardless of the type of sports burnout, there are usually signs and symptoms you can look for in order to determine whether your child may be burned out from sports.
- Disinterest in sports and/or lacking motivation. Sports should be fun for kids, but when they begin to feel more like a job some kids respond by losing their focus and interest in playing. When you see your child dragging his feet, slow to get ready and prepare his equipment, or outwardly saying he doesn’t feel like going to practice those are usually signs for parents to dig a little deeper and assess the situation.
- Loss of pride. Most kids who play sports take great pride in both team and individual accomplishments, so when you see a kid no longer excited to share positive sport experiences it may be a sign that the stress of sports are beginning to take the place of excitement, interest, and overall positive feelings about playing sports.
- Decline in performance. Sport performances will typically rise and fall, but if you witness your child experiencing a major slump without a clear reason why (meaning there are no injuries and the competition hasn’t changed), it may be time to dig deeper.
- Dangerous habits and/or lack of caring. Additional signs of potential sports burnout include witnessing your child engage in risky behaviors (i.e. drinking or drug usage), or haphazard in training (i.e. clearly not putting in the practice needed, not making weight, etc).
- Direct conversation about sports burnout. In some instances kids will literally tell their parents they are tired and burned out, but if you are not listening and paying attention you might still miss this important opportunity.
Sports burnout is a very important condition to watch for, but the good news is that by catching symptoms early and taking small breaks most kids rebound and soon enough find their enthusiasm for sports again. Create a warm, caring environment in your home that allows your child to witness your unconditional love, even if she decides that she wants a break from sports.