Youth Sports Burnout

Coaches Corner by Dave Gleason


Youth Sports Burnout



Around the age of 6 (sometimes younger) our children begin to explore recreational sports. The experience of playing youth sports often continues throughout high school. Soccer, basketball, football, lacrosse, hockey and lacrosse are extremely popular.

In a recent article by the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics it is stated that PLAY is so important for optimal child development that it has since been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.

What has happened?

The change in youth sports has been influenced by the gradual collapse and near death of physical education combined with lack of free play after school.

Physical education has largely become more about learning particular sports as opposed to learning movement skills, body awareness, coordination and whole body strength. Because of the sensationalism of media coverage pertaining to crimes against children most parents are fearful of allowing their kids go outside and play, ride their bikes to a friends house or team practice or simply walk down the street to play a “pick up game” with neighborhood kids. Statistically crimes against children are as low or lower than that of 1968. That said, most parents are frozen with fear and don’t have the time to supervise.

The fact is that organized sports, to no fault of their own, have taken over what used to be a time of creativity, movement exploration, sports idol emulation and just plain fun. Now volunteer parent coaches have the task of teaching the sport technically and tactically as well as condition the kids to be in good enough shape to play. Hats off to the these ill-equipped warriors that are trying to do their part.

Coupled with the drastic rise in youth obesity and secondary illnesses such as early onset diabetes and depression, sporting has been many well intentioned parents fall back position to increase exercise frequency at all costs.

Now the common perception is that the more sports practices and the more variety in sports a young child has the better. The outcome is very often 5-7 days of practices and or games per week.

More work, less play.

Some kids absolute love sports and they excel at them.

Athletics is not the enemy here. What we are turning them into is. Even the most accomplish young athlete is a growing developing human being that needs to approach youth sport from a developmental stand point.

Young athletes that begin to show a certain aptitude for a particular sport are most often more developed than their peers in certain aspects of movement skill and or conceptual functions of the game.

The dictionary definition of burnout is: physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

Here are 10 ways to avoid youth sports burnout:

1.) Time off – When did it become common practice to allow our kids to practice in structured settings 5-7 days per week and play in multiple games per week year round? Do not give in to the fear that if a young athlete takes a break they will be left behind. In they are really that skilled they will still make the team.


2.) Stop – Two full time sports in one season was to much for one of the greatest athletes of our life time, Bo Jackson. So why would we subject our young athletes to the same physical and emotional stressors of 2 competitive sports? Limit sports participation to one sport per season if possible and keep weekly practice frequency for kids 6-13 to a maximum of 2.


3. Remember – Coached sports practices will help increase skill sets for that sport. Without a proper foundation of movement skills a young athlete will development improper movement patterns resulting in a lack of performance and even injury. A balanced approach to physical activity can increase injury resistance and performance.


4.) Be free – Free play in the context of this discussion is playing uncoached and unorganized by adults or coaches. Playing will often times do more for overall athleticism and creativity on the field, court or ice than any other method.


5.) Take a good look – The practices and games are not the only part of a young athlete’s life. School, practice, homework, eating and sleeping are at the top of the task list. What about social development, down time, play time and time just to be a kid time. Far too often parents allow their young athletes to participate in so many activities during the week that they don’t have any time to just be…a kid.


6.) Being the parent – Sometimes the toughest part of being a parent is saying no to our children. The word no is not always a punishment even if it feels unfair or makes a young athlete temporarily unhappy. When your young athlete is your age, they will be thanking you for saying no at the right times.


7.) Training like a pro – Every great athlete that you can name grew up playing several different sports and taking time off from all sports. Year round training is now the norm for most sports rather than the exception. Full year competitive soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball or enter your own sport is not only ill-advised…it is dangerous. A professional athlete has a mature muscular system, has stopped growing and takes time off from their respective sport to rejuvenate, recover and heal. Many young athletes practice with more frequency for longer periods of time than most professional athletes.


8.) Don’t specialize to early – Early specialization can under cut the natural development of a young athlete. Development and fun are the goals, not young sports superstars.


9.) Education – A young athletes development is analogous to our education system. A young boy with an ability in 1st grade math cannot skip over 2nd – 6th and begin 7th grade algebra. Skipping over steps in regards to human movement skill works the same way. Fundamental skill development must be of priority and must be progressive in nature over a long period of time. Once one skill is mastered the child can move on to the next.


10.) Keep it fun – The current paradigm is that the more sports the better. Unfortunately, youth sports are serving the purposes of keeping kids busy and out of trouble, getting them in shape or preparing for possible financial assistance for college.


The next time your young athlete complains about going to practice keep this in mind:




Relating to or denoting activity done for enjoyment when one is not working.




Dave Gleason is owner of Athletic Revolution on Winter Street, co-author of Youth Speed Development as well as the International Youth Conditioning Association Trainer of the Year. Coach Dave consults fitness trainers from around the world how to effectively train young athletes for long term success. For comments or questions Coach Gleason can be reached at 781-312-7808 or







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