As the dog days of summer soon approach, the risks that your child may experience sports burnout proportionately increase. By mid-July, most serious student athletes (aka “travel ball kids”) have played a high number of games and traveled around the state and country, often doing so at the expense of spending time with friends, hanging out at the pool, or even going on family vacations. Now, these kids prepare to “suck it up” for the final stretch of practices, games, and travel, leaving many kids emotionally and physically burned spent. What do you do to support your child through the final phase of summer sports — the time where sports burnout is most often experienced?
I have written about sports burnout many times in the past (check these columns out here and here for a refresher), and examined what sports burnout is, why it occurs, the dangers to kids, and how to successfully deal with sports burnout. The condition of sports burnout is unique in that it isn’t a diagnosable mental health illness, but instead a collection of cognitive, emotional, and physical reactions and responses directly associated with sport intensity and duration. Simply put, the more sports kids play, the more likely they will eventually experience a period of sport staleness, fatigue, and possibly full-blown sport burnout.
Kids who become burned out from sports become at-risk for a number of issues and problems. First, kids who feel pushed to continue playing sports (especially at the cost of not doing other things they enjoy) may act out directly (i.e. deliberately performing poorly or fighting with parents and coaches), or internalize their stress and cope poorly and/or ineffectively (i.e. discretely using drugs or alcohol, or engaging in reckless behaviors). Another concern relating to kids who feel burned out is their increased chance for injury relating to poor focus on the field. When kids don’t pay attention because they’re bored, they run the risk of injuring themselves or others. And finally, kids who become burned out from sports may display a host of other responses and characteristics, including anger bursts, aggression, and even premature quitting of the sport altogether. It is for all of these reasons that parents and coaches pay close attention to how hard kids are pushed in sports.
Prepare for the stretch run
We are now roughly halfway through summer, with many kids going back to school as early as mid-August. At the same time, elite-level and travel sport leagues often see the biggest push now, as witnessed by tournaments that require more travel, are longer in duration, and more intense. Add to this that kids have already been playing hard up until this point, and you can easily see why the final month of summer sports is arguably the most at-risk time for sports burnout.
As you prepare to support your child through the end of summer sports, keep the following ideas and tips in mind:
- Make down-time a priority. Yes, there may only be small pockets of free time at the end of a busy summer sports season, but it is imperative that you capture this time and allow your child to choose what he or she wants to do with it. Going to the pool, playing video games, or even sleeping in should all be available options to consider as proactive measures to help mitigate the stress of playing sports at a high level all summer long.
- Set goals and support. Circle the last day of the summer sports season on the calendar and help your child fully understand that the season will eventually end! When kids feel like the season will never end and that they won’t see any breaks for the foreseeable future, it leaves them at-risk to cope poorly with the stress of their own thinking.
- Create a reward at the end of the season. Another carrot to keep in front of your child is to allow him or her to provide ideas for rewards after experiencing a long, tough sports season. Family vacations, amusement parks, and trips to the beach can work wonders when trying to motivate kids to the finish line.
- Allow for open and ongoing communication. Discuss the importance of open communication with your child, and make sure he or she is completely comfortable talking to you at any time about the stress they experience playing sports. Try and address the problems you learn about by taking breaks, using down-time more effectively, or even talking to a sport psychologist to help.
Youth sports are more intense than ever before, and kids who complete a rigorous summer sports season should be rewarded for their efforts. Sports burnout is very real, but it can also be off-set by parents paying attention to warning signs of burnout, and acting swiftly when they see their child struggling. Make sure to allow your child healthy down-time between the end of summer sports and the beginning of fall interscholastic sports so that you can end the summer on a high note, and begin he school year fully charged.