I remember playing soccer as a kid pretty vividly. There’s a smattering of games, practices, camps, travel and associated activities swimming around inside my head. Perhaps I’ve forgotten but there was only one time that I ever considered “quitting” soccer and that was near my transition to high school. However that was because I was considering going out for football. So other than that, I truly don’t have a recollection of not wanting to play anymore. Perhaps I’m wired differently because I also ran track through high school and into college. Basketball got left behind as a sophomore in high school. That was more of a “talent” and interest thing than burnout. When you’re getting the token minutes as a freshman, the writing is on the wall. I needed to get a lot better in order to be successful at the sport that was not my priority.
Define Burnout – With the quick anecdotes above, it’s obvious that I am defining burnout differently than just discontinuing participation. There are seasons for everything in our lives and sports are no different. Allowing one season to end in order for others to begin or become more prominent is not something to bemoan. It is the natural order of life.
So what we are specifically talking about is the idea of saturation to the point of generalized overwhelm, exhaustion with and possible contempt for the activity. Notice the underlined word, generalized. Everyone has moments where the things that they pursue can become difficult in the moment. Burnout is much more than that, it is a constant rather than a one off.
The following suggestions are not the only possibilities nor a silver bullet but rather the beginning of a conversation. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is a relevant metaphor here.
Give them an “out” – Even though they may never take it, giving kids a visible way out of something can be an antidote to burnout. This can come with some stipulations such as finishing out the season/year but the message should be clear “if you don’t want this anymore, that’s ok.”
Renew the contract – This may seem like the same thing as giving them an escape route but it’s not. Kids do not process things in the same way as adults. Even though they may know that they can get out if they want to, they may not evaluate that “want” regularly. At the end of the season AND before the next, check in to make sure that they want to continue.
Align the goals – “I love soccer/football/hockey/badminton/etc.” may mean something completely different to your child than it does to you. Make sure that the goals that you and your child have for the sport are aligned. If you’re thinking, “college scholarship” and they are thinking, “I love hanging out with my friends and the games” that disconnect is going to cause friction at some point. There’s always room for changing course but if parents and kids are pointed in different directions, problems may arise.
Find the model – If your youth athlete has expressed an interest in play at some higher level whether it is high school, club, academy, college or professional. Find someone who is at that next step and talk to them about what it takes to get there. Do not try to jump steps. Your 8 year old does not need to understand the training regimen of a professional athlete. Most young players would say that they want to go pro. That’s not the question in the beginning. The relevant question in the beginning is do they want to practice when no one tells them to?
LOVE THEM, no matter what – This should be obvious and it probably is to you, as the parent. Often messages get convoluted in the day to day grind of all of the responsibilities that we have. Regardless of the outcome of games, tryouts, tournaments or anything else; your child should have an overwhelming sense that their performance and your love are completely separate items.
I hope that after reading this that you’re saying to yourself “I didn’t need this article!” Nothing would make me happier! The unfortunate thing is that many people do. So if you could spread it, that would be great! I’m extremely passionate about my sport of choice, soccer, and also helping young people. Almost nothing is more disappointing to me than to see a child who had a love for a sport driven out of them.
Sports are a great opportunity to bring the best out of our children. Let’s take that opportunity to raise our children up and not wear them down.
Make today a great day!