Blogpost

5 Ways to Avoid Youth Sports Burnout

EmSoccer.jpgI 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 the 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 direction, 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!

Pete

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Cheering for Someone Else’s Kid (An Exercise in Perspective)

Huryk-LukeEvery weekend the players line up on the field, the referee blows the whistle and the microscopes come out.  I’m speaking figuratively of course.  Although a fusion between youth sports and science would be great, I’m talking about the tunnel vision of the fans on the sidelines.  It’s actually not their fault.  It is in our nature to pay attention to the things that we care most about.  So a parent’s focus on their child at a time of high emotion is both normal and expected.  Our youth sports culture has definitely swung toward the extreme with cost, intensity and behavior.  The thing that we often lack as we go through life is perspective.  We tend to think that the way we perceive the world is the way that the world is.  It is only our version.  There are billions of others and none of them is completely correct either.  So it may be valuable to gain a different perspective.

Go to a youth sporting event of someone else’s kid, not a niece or a close friend’s son but two levels of separation.  It may just be a different age group at the club that your child plays for.  Choose a child that you’re going to “support” for the game.  If you’re a cheerer, then cheer.  If you’re the quiet pensive fan, then be quiet and pensive.  Whatever you would normally do at your own child’s game, do you best to recreate it (bring your spouse to bicker about the coach if need be).  I understand this will be uncomfortable and feel odd for most people but here are some things that will probably happen.

You’re probably going to lose focus on “your player” from time to time and watch the overall game.  All of the reactions that you would normally have will be slightly muted.  You may be able to look at the player and pick up on subtle cues about them.  Do they like the sport?  Do they play with joy and look like they are having fun?  Are they afraid to mess up/of contact/of trying too hard?  Are they embarrassed by the stranger cheering for them (keep it under control)?  At the end of the game, was success or failure based solely on the score/outcome?

The payoff in this experiment will be different for everyone.  If the difference between the fan that you are in the two situations is small, that’s probably a good sign.  If the difference between the fan that you are is vast, it might be helpful to consider why.  In the grand scheme of the world, both games probably meant about the same amount.  Sports bring out some of our best and worst characteristics as humans.  The kids are practicing regularly in order to be their best, let’s be at our best as well!

Go!

Pete

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Empty Trophies (the loss in winning)

LukeSoccerAs the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills.  These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships.  Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee.  That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself.  The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time.  It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.

The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game.  We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it.  Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered.  The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.

Infinite games are not played to win or lose.  They are played in order to keep playing.  “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor.  You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss.  The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc.  Life is another infinite game that we play.  The goal of life is not to get to death.  The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.

The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life.  The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty.  It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable.  Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.

If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss.  It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished.  Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play.  Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and minds of those who earned them.

The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.

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Finite vs. Infinite Games

This is intended for all of my soccer friends out there but there are lessons that can be taken that have non-sport application.

LukeSoccerAs the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills.  These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships.  Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee.  That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself.  The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time.  It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.

The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game.  We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it.  Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered.  The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.

Infinite games are not played to win or lose.  They are played in order to keep playing.  “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor.  You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss.  The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc.  Life is another infinite game that we play.  The goal of life is not to get to death.  The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.

The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life.  The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty.  It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable.  Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.

If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss.  It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished.  Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play.  Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and mind of those who earned them.

The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.

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The Goonies

GooniesI recently watched a movie from my childhood called “The Goonies”.  If you’ve never watched it, it’s worth a look.  It’s the story of a group of misfit friends who are thrown into an amazing adventure.  Like so many of the movies from my childhood, it is something that is timeless to me for a variety of reasons.  Although it’s been almost thirty years since I first saw it, I know what attracted me to the movie at the time.  It was foul mouthed kids that weren’t too different from me that fell into adventure on their own.

In my early teen years, my friends and I were always getting into low level Goonie adventures.  We never found a pirate ship or fought off criminals but we did a lot without supervision.  I’m not sure if the movie inspired us to test the limits or if we would have done that anyway.  Our boundaries slowly but surely expanded from our backyard to as far as our bikes would carry us.  It was a slow and steady process of discovery over years.  These years gave us a sense of confidence that we could handle things on our own and avoid getting into trouble at the same time.

The world is a different place and I feel as though the ability/desire to find and handle those Goonie adventures is being lost.  The process of creating adventures and responsibility for the consequences is an exclusively adult job these days.  Kids have little ability to make minor mistakes much less big ones.  At some point they will be faced with the world and I wonder if they will recoil due to a lack of experience or rise to the challenge.  The self-reliance that we gained is something that I cherish.  Where would I be without it?  I really don’t want to know.

Go and have an adventure today.  Also tell me about one of your Goonie adventures by clicking here.

Pete

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Picnic Baskets and Swiss Army Knives

SwissArmyKnifeEvery year I hike part of the Appalachian Trail with my brother.  It is one of my favorite events of the year.  First, it is time spent with one of my best friends.  Second, it is enjoyable to forget about comfort for two days and walk into the woods with only the supplies we can carry.  It’s not army survival training by any stretch but it’s not a picnic either.  We never bring a picnic basket but we always bring a Swiss Army Knife.  The tools that you pack on any adventure say a lot about what you are expecting, what you can handle and whether or not you’ll survive.

picnicbasketOne of my greatest concerns is the youth of today are under-prepared to deal with the challenges they will face.  I fear that in many respects kids today are walking into the woods with picnic baskets.  They are anticipating that everything will continue to be easy.  The tests of life will be multiple choice.  If they need it, they’ll get extra time to complete their work.  Mommy or daddy will always be available to fix their problems.  Unfortunately this picnic basket life that they are anticipating doesn’t exist.  What happens when they find out that life is not always a picnic?

My hope is that we never get to that point.  I want the young people that I have contact with to leave the basket at home and take the Swiss Army Knife.  Start equipping themselves with any and every tool that they can to survive effectively in the woods of life.

The reason that I use the Swiss Army Knife in this metaphor is its adaptability to many situations.  The world is changing at an increasingly rapid pace.  Yet many young people seem to have trouble keeping up with the status quo.  The expectation that tomorrow will be like yesterday is foolish. It will leave us at least two steps behind where we need to be.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re in the woods. Did you pack well?  If not, maybe now you should look around for supplies.