Skip to content

The Burnout Problem in Youth Sports – part 1

By Joe Ulm

A March, 2020 meta-analysis conducted by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine concluded the following:

“Adolescent sport specialization was associated with greater levels of burnout in all 3 aspects (reduced sense of accomplishment, sport devaluation, and exhaustion) compared with sport sampling.”

Which begs the question…why are kids burning out on sports? At a high level, it often goes like this:

  1. Players who develop an aptitude for a sport at a young age are praised by coaches and parents which makes them feel good/special.
  2. Bolstered by this experience, players continue to put effort into the sport and continue to improve. Hence, they continue to receive praise and attention.
  3. Players associate their aptitude with who they are as a person (i.e. “I’m a good soccer player).
  4. As players get older, they begin playing at higher levels until they’re playing with only other “adept” players. This environment makes it far more difficult to receive the praise and status they’re accustomed to.
  5. Those who love playing the sport will invest the time and effort needed to maintain their “adept” status. Those who love the praise (but not necessarily the sport) will find it extremely difficult to invest the time and effort needed to keep up.
  6. Those who don’t keep up will find that the praise they’re accustomed has turned into pressure, which threatens their identity.
  7. This new situation kills their enjoyment of the sport and along with it, any interest in doing the work required to achieve a “praise-worthy” status again. Burnout.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy fix to the problem because most youth sports today are designed to create elite players. And why is that? Because the majority of youth sports’ customers (i.e. parents) want it that way. And that’s not all bad. We live in a hyper-competitive world so learning some of these tough lessons when we’re younger can save us a lot of pain in the future. Then again, if kids drop out of sports due to burnout, those lessons are lost.

So then…how do we keep kids engaged in sports in a healthy way that:

  1. Avoids burnout
  2. Helps them maintain their enjoyment of the sport
  3. Helps them prepare for the many challenges they will face in the years ahead?

Those answers are in part 2 and 3.

Stay tuned and stay United everyone.

street soccer

In our Street Soccer program, players have the opportunity to create their own teams, make their own calls, and unconsciously develop their technical and tactical awareness–all while expressing themselves with the ball at their feet. We believe players should be able to manage themselves and have the freedom to play, interact, problem-solve, innovate, and take ownership of their participation in the game. Teams are created the day of to promote diversity, and games are played without referees to reinforce positive conflict resolution techniques. Our I-Mentor coaches will supervise each field making sure that players and facilities are safe while maintaining a fun and challenging environment.

PSU’s Street Soccer is open to all 9U to 19U players. Our Old School Street Soccer is open to any parent, soccer coach, and their significant others. Bring the whole family!


  • Fridays : April 15 through June 3
  • Time: 5:30-7:00 pm
  • Location: Pewaukee Sports Complex


  • Games are 7 minutes long
  • Sliding or going to ground is not allowed
  • There is no offsides, but all other soccer rules apply
  • There are no referees – players call their own fouls
  • Profanity of any kind is not allowed

Important Information

  • Cleats, shin guards, socks (covering the shin guards) are required
  • Teams may be adjusted by PSU team members multiple times during each session, including during games
  • PSU reserves the right to disallow the participation of players in the program for any reason
  • Signed waiver is required