Fort Worth, Texas,
11:08 AM

‘I quit!’ Is your child burned out on sports?

Preventing overtraining or burnout in young athletes

“I want to quit!”

“This is not fun!”

“I don’t want to play anymore.”

Are these lines you’ve heard your young athlete say? Have you found yourself asking questions like – “What could cause a talented, young athlete to lose their passion for playing a sport?” “Or why would they throw everything away after we’ve worked so hard?”

Your young athlete may be feeling a sense of overtraining or burnout from their sport.

What is overtraining or burnout?

Overtraining occurs when an athlete does the same skill over and over again with limited rest, causing a loss of enjoyment or withdrawal due to increasing physical demands. This could be specialization in one sport, high volumes of training, or demands of coaches, trainers, parents, or self to achieve a specific skill level, time, or score in their sport. A child may sense these demands as too much, leading to physiological and mood changes affecting self-esteem, levels of stress and ultimately leading to physical and emotional exhaustion.

Overtraining can also increase your child’s risk for injury. Often young athletes are putting in long hours to perfect their sport and participate in competitions or tournaments. This repetitive stress and physical exhaustion on a growing, undeveloped body can promote weakness and breakdown of body support structures, placing the athlete at risk for overuse or repetitive stress injuries. A study performed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) found that athletes who spend more than twice as much time in sports than in free play, who intensely specialize in a single sport, or who played more hours per week than their age, are more likely to have overuse injuries and potential emotional burnout.

Not all athletes that request to stop a sport are burned out. Some request to stop due to time constraints, interest in trying something new, lack of playing time, or boredom. That is why it’s important to be aware of signs of burnout or overtraining.

What are some causes of overtraining/burnout?

  • Early specialization in a sport
  • Lack of rest
  • Lack of life balance
  • Loss of fun
  • Excessive negative or unclear feedback from coaches and/or parents
  • Poor relationship with coach or teammates

What are signs of overtraining?

  • Loss of desire to play
  • Tiring quickly
  • Resisting working with coaches and teammates
  • Not reaching training goals
  • Chronic injuries

What can I do to help?

It is important to switch focus back to the fun of the game. This can happen by starting pick-up games and reducing the pressure to exceed. This transitions the focus to building teamwork, bringing awareness to proper fitness and health, developing friendships, and having fun.

As the athlete’s parent, you are their support system and second voice. Talk to your athlete and their coach about promoting a good life balance and placing fun back into the game. For example, recommend reducing the number of competitions if your child is training 6-7 days a week for multiple hours a day.

What if you’re the parent and coach? Children model those around them. Teach them based on how you conduct yourself in your passion for the sport, the importance of life balance and rest, and how to create open lines of communication with teammates and coaching staff. Reward the positives, but also use the negatives for learning experiences and education.

Change the mindset of “win-at-all-costs” and motivating through a focus on winning, humiliation/anger when they fail, or pressure to get the athletes mind back in the game. Instead, promote a positive atmosphere where there is a balance of the serious, competitive side and fun side. Try to regain the fun, or positively support and guide them as they transition interest to another sport, position, or activity. There is even a possibility that through this process of finding their passion, they might return to that same sport because they want to, not because they were forced. Also, by reducing the monotony of training and allowing your child to try different sports or positions, you can promote varying levels of strengthening, muscle memory, and physical and mental growth.

It is important to be aware that it is OK for an athlete to become serious about their sport and invest time and energy into pursuing their sporting goals as long as they maintain a passion for what they’re doing. If the passion and fun for the sport is removed, there is a risk for heartache, unhappiness and ultimately burnout.

More resources from the Cook Children's Sports Performance Orthopedic Rehab Team Specialists (SPORTS):


About the author

Jenny Arey, PT, DPT, OCS, CMPT, is a SPORTS physical therapist. She's a board certified orthopedic clinical specialist and certified manual physical therapist. The SPORTS Program at Cook Children’s offers educational material for parents, coaches, trainers and nurses for sports-specific injuries. Our team of experts have specialized training in pediatrics and collaborate together to share their knowledge in growing bodies and dynamic training principles. 



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