Industry Insights

What You Can Do to Help Athletes Stay in the Game

By LeagueApps
July 22, 2021
3 min

“Burnout” is a trendy post-pandemic topic these days—for media organizations, psychologists, and employers—but the youth sports world has been well aware of it for some time. Close watchers have long blamed mental burnout for participation drop-offs, particularly in the upper levels of competition. And now, after Covid-related shutdowns gave parents and athletes a taste of a less-pressured schedule, even more participants are hesitant to return to the previous level of intensity


To help you prevent, prepare for, and respond to player burnout, check out the following primer, which explores who is most at risk, how to notice the first signs and what to do when a player is experiencing difficulties. 


Risk Factors and Signs of Burnout 

The Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago defines mental burnout, or overtraining syndrome, as “a condition in which an athlete experiences fatigue and declining performance in his/her sport despite continuing or increased training.” Factors that increase the likelihood of burnout include:

  • Specializing in one sport
  • Sudden and large increases in training
  • Participation in endurance sports
  • High anxiety level
  • Low self-esteem
  • Pressure from parents and coaches


For every young athlete who thrives under the expectations and demands of youth sports, there are many others who are turned off by them. Usually, though, that change of heart occurs over time. That gives coaches and parents the chance to prevent burnout, as long as they can recognize the warning signs. 


Dr. David Geier, a sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina, lists the following tell-tale indicators:

  • Performance shifts: Inconsistent play or play below one’s usual level might just be slump. If it comes with a lack of motivation or a loss of enjoyment, though, it could be burnout.  
  • Emotional shifts: Depression, anger, lack of concentration, an uncooperative or disagreeable demeanor … maybe, it’s just adolescence. But maybe it’s burnout.
  • Health shifts: Burnt-out athletes complain of vague pains, get sick more often and recover slower. They also tire more easily and may even have a higher resting heart rate and blood pressure


What Coaches and Organizers Can Do 

Shifting the trajectory of burnout takes a caring and committed all-hands approach. Here are some ways to address the issue:

  • Train your coaches. In 2019, the Aspen Institute, with support from the late Kobe Bryant, launched the #Don’tRetireKid campaign to stem the high dropout rate among young athletes. One of their findings: coaches are on the front line of burnout defense, with the power to “make an athlete for life — or wreck enthusiasm for sport altogether.” Good, well-trained coaches, the initiative found, lower kids’ anxiety levels, lift their self esteem and help them enjoy the sport. In that vein, take time to teach your coaches about the triggers and signs of burnout, and drive home how important it is for them to raise burnout concerns to superiors as early as possible. Most of all, remind them to keep the overall experience positive. 

  • Communicate with your parents. After Tyler Kreitz, COO of Advnc Lacrosse, realized that his team had grown into a national organization, he opened up an ongoing discussion with his community, spending the most time on topics related to the undue pressure placed on the kids. His “A Note to Parents” series offers thoughts and suggestions on how to help players keep perspective throughout their experience. You can do the same through a blog, email newsletters or social media. 

Burnout is unhealthy for everyone; it’s bad for athletes and bad for the health of their  youth sports programs as well. But you don’t have to be a psychologist or sports medicine doctor to protect your players or organization from the harmful effects of burnout. . By arming your coaches with quality information, opening channels of communication with your parents and players, and establishing clear policies around mental health and self-care, you’re setting your organization up for success in the long run.