The increasingly competitive nature of youth sports can result in athlete burnout. Previously associated with adults who are exhausted and disillusioned with their jobs, burnout has now spread from offices to youth sports courts, fields, and rinks everywhere.
Ongoing work by researchers like East Carolina University’s Dr. Thomas D. Raedeke is revealing not only the real causes of burnout in youth athletes, but also how it can be prevented.
Burnout is in part a reaction to chronic stress. According to Dr. Raedeke, the stress can come from overtraining but also from external sources. It can directly stem from parents who pressure their child, or more subtly from family life that evolves around sport. It can also result from negative coaching behaviors. Some athletes also have internal personality characteristics, like an innate sense of perfectionism, that make them vulnerable to burnout. But stress is only part of the story.
“Not only might burnout-prone athletes begin to realize sports success is not as meaningful as they once thought, the athletes might also believe success ultimately is not possible because skill improvements are inevitably linked to increased expectation and standards,” says Dr. Raedeke.
“As a result, they may realize they can never be good enough and that they are chasing an impossible goal.”
A lack of independence or feeling like they have no say in the matter can also play a role.
The signs of athlete burnout are not always obvious, and they can overlap with other kinds of stress, such as overtraining or life and school pressures. Research suggests sports burnout runs deeper and presents with three major symptoms: