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:
- Players who develop an aptitude for a sport at a young age are praised by coaches and parents which makes them feel good/special.
- Bolstered by this experience, players continue to put effort into the sport and continue to improve. Hence, they continue to receive praise and attention.
- Players associate their aptitude with who they are as a person (i.e. “I’m a good soccer player).
- 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.
- 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.
- Those who don’t keep up will find that the praise they’re accustomed has turned into pressure, which threatens their identity.
- 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:
- Avoids burnout
- Helps them maintain their enjoyment of the sport
- 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.