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Burnout in sport is defined as “physical/emotional exhaustion, sport devaluation, and reduced over-training and by competing too often. This is an important issue in youth sports because it often leads to dropping out of sport completely.  Participation in sport offers many benefits to children and with so many people leading sedentary lifestyles, it’s becoming even more important to keep our kids engaged in sport.

The good news is that burnout can be avoided.  Knowing what to look for and how to approach a child that may be suffering from burnout will encourage them to continue their involvement in sports.

What do I watch for?

  • Be aware of the warning signs – loss of interest in sport, dreading practice, anger and irritability (especially if it has never been a problem before) at home and on the field.  
  • Injuries (real or imagined)
  • Watch for patterns – quitting during a competition or not focusing or caring about the outcome.
  • Child exhibits signs of fatigue, restlessness, apathy, loss of appetite, depression and/or a lack of motivation.

 What can we do to help?

  • Offer your support.  Sometimes parents and coaches are so sure they are doing the right thing that they find it difficult to step back and see what’s happening.
  • Reduce the pressure to win by establishing goals.
  • Recognize improvement and realize that there will be setbacks to progress.
  • Sometimes performance gets worse before it get better; motivation and encouragement go further than punishment or criticism.
  • Listen to what your child has to say and respect their opinions.  The most common complaint is that “It’s just not fun anymore.”
  • Keep a healthy perspective on the importance of raising a star athlete vs. raising a healthy child.
  • Let them take time off, encourage them to play a variety of sports, and build other activities into their schedule.

The best thing parents can do to prevent burnout in their child is to let them know that no matter the outcome, you love them and will be proud of them for who they are, not what they are.

References Available from the SIRC Collection: 

1. Appleton P, Hill A. Perfectionism and Athlete Burnout in Junior Elite Athletes: The Mediating Role of Motivation Regulations. Journal Of Clinical Sport Psychology. June 2012;6(2):129-145.
2. Gustafsson H, Skoog T. The mediational role of perceived stress in the relation between optimism and burnout in competitive athletes. Anxiety, Stress & Coping. March 2012;25(2):183-199.
3. Harris B, Watson II J. Assessing Youth Sport Burnout: A Self-Determination and Identity Development Perspective. Journal Of Clinical Sport Psychology. June 2011;5(2):117-133.
4. Kids at play: risks and rewards. Handball. October 2004;54(5):37-39.
5. Metzl J. DO I HAVE OVERSTRAINING SYNDROME?. Triathlete. October 2012;(343):28.
6. Wolff R. Preventing burnout among young athletes. Sports Illustrated. April 21, 1997;86(16):79.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.