Warning signs and prevention tips for sports burnout in kids and teens
Parents of young athletes know how significant sports and activities can be for their kids. Sports can provide multiple benefits for kids and teens, from physical fitness to teamwork and character development. However, for some kids, too much of a sport may unfortunately lead to burnout.
To support your young athletes, Dr. Kelly Davis, pediatric sports medicine physician at CHOC, explains how essential it is to strike a balance with sports that prevents burnout. Here, she offers advice to parents for spotting warning signs of burnout and tips for preventing it.
What is athlete burnout? What causes it in kids and teens?
Burnout, or overtraining syndrome, is “A series of psychological, physiologic and hormonal changes that result in decreased sports performance,” says Dr. Davis.
This declining sport performance occurs even with continued or even increased sports training (such as practice or games). Burnout is the result of too much sports training with too little time for rest and recovery.
Burnout is more often seen in athletes who specialize in a single sport early on or play on multiple teams at one time. Pressure from parents or coaches around the sport may also lead to greater chance of burnout in young athletes.
Signs of athlete burnout
Signs of burnout can be present in an athlete in a multitude of ways, says Dr. Davis. Common signs of athlete burnout include:
- Chronic muscle pain.
- Joint pain.
- Personality changes.
- Elevated resting heart rate.
- Decreased athletic performance.
- Decreased academic performance.
- Sleep difficulties.
- Prolonged recovery times.
- Lack of enthusiasm about sports or practice.
How to prevent burnout in young athletes
In an effort to prevent athlete burnout in kids and teens, Dr. Davis encourages parents to emphasize the FUN in sports and being active. She offers the following tips:
- Keep workouts interesting with age-appropriate games and training to keep practice fun.
- Encourage kids to take time off from organized or structured sports participation one to two days per week to allow the body to rest or participate in other activities.
- Permit longer scheduled breaks from sports training and competition every two to three months while focusing on other activities and cross-training to prevent loss of skill or level of conditioning.
- Focus on wellness. Teach athletes to be in tune with their bodies for cues to slow down or alter their training methods.
Who is at risk of athlete burnout?
Kids who specialize in a single sport early in their athletic career are more at risk for burnout. Other risk factors for athlete burnout in kids and teens may include:
- Large increases in sports training
- Participation in high endurance sports
- Having anxiety or low self-esteem
- External pressure from adults.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has found that, “Participating in multiple sports, at least until puberty, decreases the chances of injuries, stress and burnout in young athletes.”
How much exercise is too much for kids and teens?
The AAP Counsel of Sports Medicine offers the following sports and activity guidelines for kids and teens:
- Don’t allow sports specialization (playing only one sport) in pre-school aged children or younger.
- Discourage sports specialization (playing only one sport) in school aged children until they reach puberty around 15 or 16 years old.
- Limit aerobic activity per week to the number of hours equal to the child’s age (9-year-old participates in nine hours of activity per week).
- Limit participation in organized sports to one sport at a time and rotate sports throughout the year.
- Have your child take one to three days off per week from their sport.
- Have your child take a two to three nonconsecutive month break from any one sport per year.
Can young athletes overcome burnout? Can they recover from athlete burnout?
Yes, athletes can recover from burnout with rest. Rest is the only treatment for burnout, says Dr. Davis.
Typically, athletes need four to 12 weeks of rest time to recover from burnout symptoms. Athletes then should make a slow, progressive return to sports and activities after their rest period as they reintegrate into their sports.
Get more expert health advice delivered to your inbox monthly by subscribing to the KidsHealth newsletter here.
Learn more about CHOC’s Sports Medicine Services
CHOC Hospital was named one of the nation’s best children’s hospitals by U.S. News & World Report in its 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospitals rankings and ranked in the orthopedics specialty.