It's not always easy for an athlete to admit they need a break from sports.
Here's how parents can help their athletes take a break from sports, so they can return the next season stronger and happier than ever.
When your young athlete needs a break from their sport, it’s your job as a parent to support them and help guide them through this challenging time. Steve Smith, PhD, a professor of clinical psychology at UC Santa Barbara, works with parents and young athletes as they navigate sporting life, and he’s seen many athletes take breaks from a specific sport before returning the next season stronger and happier than ever.
Here’s what he wants parents to know:
It’s easy to start catastrophizing when your child needs to take a break or wants to try something different. “Talking with parents about this can be a real challenge, because many get so heavily invested in their child’s participation or results in one given season,” says Smith.
“There’s good research that shows kids need breaks from sport and pushing too hard can often end in outcomes that no one wants.” Don’t forget, a break isn’t always because of a physical injury – your athlete might need a mental and emotional break as well. Everyone can burn out from pushing beyond their limits, both physical and emotional, even at a young age.
For some parents, it can be hard to accept that your athlete needs a break. On a conscious level, you may not even be aware of how you’re reacting, but your young athlete might sense your disappointment.
“Parents will say they’re OK with the child taking a break, but the child will tell me, ‘If I take time off, my parents will be disappointed,’” says Smith. “Parents are communicating something different to their child than what they’re saying, and it can be really confusing.”
The hardest part of helping an athlete take a break from sports can be the initial conversation. You may not want to be the one who tells your athlete they need a break – and honestly, many pre-teens and teens are disinclined to listen to you anyway. Smith recommends seeking out an expert, such as a sports medicine doctor, sports psychologist, or physical therapist, who can assess and explain the reason for taking some time off.
“It’s helpful to have a third party involved. A sports medicine doctor can help explain to a young athlete that six weeks off now can lead to six years of strong play,” he adds. “A coach can also help here, telling an athlete that leaving is only temporary and they still have a place on the team.”