Burnout is one of those words we choose to use when we feel like exaggerating, or when we need an excuse.
Are you really burned out on a type of food, a television show, or maybe a sport? Or have you just spent an inordinate amount of time on it lately? Does a busy day really burn out kids to the point where they turn down an invitation to a social or sporting event by saying, “No, I’m burned out?” Or they just tired?
Burnout, however, is a real concern among young athletes. It’s cited as the reason kids stop trying, under-perform and quit altogether.
In an excerpt from the book “Best Practices in Youth Sports”, by Robin Vealey and Melissa Chase published by Human Kinetics, the authors devote a chapter, excerpted here, to burnout.
The authors looked at the reasons burnout happens in youth sports and divided them into three categories – overload factors, social climate factors, and personality factors.
Discovering the reasons a player is getting burned out is, of course, the vital first step. Collecting the right information about how a player is feeling then recording and charting it is essential. DRVIN is a simple and effective way to stay aware of what is going on with your players.
Overload factors revolve around too much of too many things – too much training, too many activities, too much pressure – and can be handled by a cooperative effort between parents and coaches. Personality factors include weak coping skills, anxiety, and the inability to accept mistakes.
Bu the whole realm of social climate factors might just be to blame for of the bulk of burnout issues.
Just for the record, the authors define burnout as “a negative psychological and physical state in which young athletes feel tired, less able to perform well, and less interested in playing their sports.”
Think of a player you suspect might be getting burned out. They aren’t really hard to identify. They are the ones who no longer show up at training with a smile on their face, and they used to work harder than they are now. They seem a withdrawn, at least more than they used to be. When they make a simple mistake, they seem to get more upset than you would consider normal. They simply don’t seem to be enjoying themselves.
Now take a look at how the authors describe social climate factors that lead to burnout.
They include “pressure from parents to perform or achieve certain outcomes (e.g., winning, making the varsity team, gaining a college scholarship) and negative coaching behaviors, such as extreme controlling behaviors and developmentally inappropriate training and performance expectations.”
Athletes, who are put are in situations where they are bombarded by the above social factors are being robbed of their youth sports experience, especially the ones too young to understand what’s happening
Instead of playing for the pure enjoyment, or for the personal satisfaction of being able to do something well, they’re handed a set of desired outcomes from a parent or coach. If they don’t achieve those outcomes, they feel they’ve failed.
Athletes who do not really want to participate but they feel they have to, feel trapped. And in many cases, the athlete is not able to articulate how they feel about the pressure they are under. They either don’t understand, or are afraid to tell the adults in their lives that there’s too much pressure.
When you get down to it, the most dangerous aspect of burnout is that the athlete – the very one who is experiencing burnout – doesn’t understand what is happening.
If you ask a burned-out player what is wrong, the answers you get might be, “I don’t know, just feel tired” … “I don’t feel good” … I think I’m getting sick.” Worse yet, the player will start to doubt their ability, lose confidence and feel depressed. All of sudden, something as simple as needing a day off explodes into an emotional crisis.
While “burned out” is a vastly overused phrase, genuine burn out is very real. Fortunately, it has some simple solutions. But a problem can’t be solved unless it’s identified. Take the time to pay attention. Don’t be so quick to dismiss a couple of poor performances as “nothing to worry about.”
Keep track of how your athletes are doing.