Youth sports are well-known to be beneficial to athletes in high school. Even before high school, the discipline, cooperation, and camaraderie learned through sport works wonders on the development of young athletes on and off the field.
With that said, burnout from sport is becoming more prevalent with each passing season. Whether that is due to heavy adult intervention and control, the unrealistic hope for glory by both parent and child, or the way youth sports are presented and promoted is anyone’s guess. Regardless, the youth sports burnout rate is higher than ever.
With that said, today’s entry on The Wire is directed to the parents of youth athletes and will focus on the best practices to avoid sports burnout.
Sport Specialization Too Early
The American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine defines specialization in youth sports “as engaging in a sport for at least three seasons a year at the exclusion of other sports.”
And while this is conveyed in a negative connotation, specialization has become the norm.
Early on, children may exhibit interest in one particular sport – which is all fine and dandy. Issues can arise when parents project their “dreams” and “aspirations” for sport stardom onto their children and believe that the initial interest shown will translate to long-term passion or devotion. When, in fact, it’s likely not the case.
Early sport specialization is known to put children at a much greater risk for overuse injuries.
Dr. Mininder S. Kocher, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital Boston, told The New York Times, “I’ve been doing Tommy John surgery” — an elbow reconstruction procedure often associated with professional baseball players — “on more and more kids” who damaged their arms by pitching for too many hours in too many games and practices.
Additionally, participating too much in that one sport early on can lead to the dreaded “burnout.” That is, a child loses the initial intrigue or interest in the sport they once enjoyed. This can happen in a variety of ways, even without specializing. However, the rates amongst those who do specialize are far greater.
“Children who specialize in one sport early in life were found to be the first to quit their sport and ended up having higher inactivity rates as an adult,” said Dr. Popkin, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Columbia University Medical Center, based on findings of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.
How Can Parents Help avoid burnout?
Young athletes need to develop their interest in sports at their own pace and in their own way. Pushing it on them, or encouraging them to overtrain or specialize too early is the leading cause of burnout, and often leads to issues that extend beyond sports.
“If children are to be successful at a sport, the drive to specialize and succeed must be intrinsic, of their own choosing,” said Dr. Popkin. “If they lack an intrinsic drive, if they’re not having fun, they’ll likely become frustrated and quit,”
Dr. Popkin went on to explain that when parents hire personal trainers or otherwise spend hefty amounts on their child’s athletic success, it can create a pressure-cooking environment. This scenario can make underdeveloped youths more inclined to give up and quit.
The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a survey of parents of youth athletes that found that 57% of them hoped that their child would go on to play at the collegiate or professional level.
If there is anything that you should encourage young athletes to try, it would be to get them involved in as many sports and activities as possible. Participating in multiple sports is called “cross-training,” and it allows young athletes to develop whole-body skills like balance, quickness, and core strength. These attributes are applicable to any sport that a child might end up specializing in.
“A couple of months of the year, encourage them to do something else,” said Dr. Popkin. “If they play soccer, they could switch off to tennis; if they play hockey, they could try the track team. Cross-training helps their bodies and can keep them from burning out.”
Things To Remember
As much as our team at Signing Day Sports wants to see people succeed in their athletic endeavors, there is a smart, calculated way to help athletes achieve their dreams. And by allowing your child to participate in a variety of different sports, they will be in a better position to succeed at the one they love.
Well-rounded athletes are well-rounded people. They also have a better chance of playing at the collegiate level or beyond. Make sure to keep these things in mind when your athlete is growing up and developing athletically. Allow them the space and autonomy in making decisions that impact their current and long-term livelihood.
Remember the old adage, “if it’s meant to be, it will be.”