Is your child athlete experiencing burnout?

For some children, pushing them to be too competitive can lead to what sports psychologists refer to as “burnout,” or losing all enjoyment of a sport due to chronic stress placed on them by parents or from playing too many consecutive games.

Kids are beginning travel sports, competing in regionals and national tournaments as early as 8 years old. The Amateur Athletic Union, a national competitive basketball league, begins at age 8, as does the “Major League” division of Little League Baseball. U.S. Youth Soccer, another nationally competitive league, begins at age 5.

“We’re starting kids too young, we’re specializing them [in a single sport] too early and we’re sending them into competition before they’re ready,” said Daniel Gould, a professor of sports psychology at Michigan State University, in a news release. “There’s a time to compete intensely. It’s probably not at nine.”

Gould warned of “professionalizing” youth sports, especially with the Little League World Series being televised nationally, placing it in the spotlight.

Physicians agree that the level of intensity and hours of practice on one sport can have negative consequences.

“As more stress and pressure is placed on these children, their interest may begin to wane in time,” says Dr. Adam Ebreo, an Advocate Medical Group pediatrician at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “Competition may be acceptable in a variety of age ranges as long as it is fun and exciting. But, if it begins to cause undue stress on the participants, then it may lead to burnout and other possible injuries.”

Playing in too many consecutive games can lead to muscle fatigue injuries due to the overuse of the same muscle groups. According to the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, across multiple sports, the more an individual trains, the higher their risk for overuse injury.

Overuse injuries typically occur during growth spurts, according to the AMSSM.  During this time, young athletes’ muscles are less resistant to repeated forces, lacking the structural support from their bones as they shift and grow.

Dr. Ebreo offers these tips to prevent burnout and overuse injury:

  1. Keep training and make workouts fun, interesting and age appropriate.
  2. Allow time off from organized sports one to two times per week to allow the body to rest and recover.
  3. Provide longer breaks from training and competitions every two to three months, while still providing other activities to help prevent loss of skill or conditioning.
  4. Limit participation to one sport during a season.
  5. Guide athletes to be in tune with their bodies and to alter their training methods if they start to notice burnout-type symptoms.

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