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African American girl smiling with her soccer team

Helping Young Athletes Avoid Burnout, Injuries

It’s an incredible feeling for young athletes when they hit a home run for the first time or perfect their landing off the balance beam. And as kids continue to play organized sports, they learn the value of persistence, self-discipline, and teamwork.

But despite the physical and mental health benefits of organized sports participation, 70 percent of kids quit by the time they reach 13. It can be hard for many parents to hear the words: “I don’t want to play anymore.”

In a new clinical report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, co-author Dr. Joel Brenner, medical director of the sports medicine program at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (CHKD), examines how injuries and burnout are pushing kids out of sports.

One of the biggest culprits is excessive training. Instead of playing different types of sports throughout the year, kids are often specializing in one sport, sometimes playing on multiple teams with few breaks to rest. Children and adolescents may be at particular risk for overuse injuries because growing bones are less tolerant of stress than those of adults.

The pressure to perform and excel often comes from outside sources.

“The professionalization of youth sports is widely considered responsible for the high volumes of training and the pressure to specialize in a single sport that may lead to overuse injury, overtraining, and burnout in youth athletes,” Brenner wrote in the report. “In addition, the pressure to succeed at a young age, as well as the perception that this is the most efficacious route to future athletic success, further leads to high volumes of training and loss of enjoyment in sport, both of which can contribute to widespread burnout and attrition among youth athletes.”

It’s up to parents, coaches, and clinicians to help kids avoid burning out and getting injured.

“It is essential that kids and adults remember that the main goal of sports is to have fun and learn lifelong physical activity skills,” said Brenner, a longtime advocate and champion for youth sports. “It should be the young athlete’s intrinsic motivation that drives their participation and not any extrinsic pressure.”

The AAP report offers key recommendations to help protect young athletes:

  • Ensure athletes have a preparticipation exam within their medical home to receive guidance from their pediatrician regarding overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout.
  • Encourage athletes to measure their success on participation and effort, and foster positive experiences with parents, coaches, and peers, which can prevent burnout.
  • Promote skill development and participation in a variety of sports and physical activities while avoiding overtraining and overscheduling.
  • Encourage the athlete, parent, and coach to make changes when there are signs of burnout and overtraining and involve a mental health professional, if needed.
  • Encourage mindfulness tools.
  • Use age-appropriate games and training to keep workouts interesting and make practices fun.
  • Take adequate time off from organized or structured sports participation on a weekly and yearly basis.
  • Focus on wellness and teaching athletes to listen to their bodies.

Not only does taking adequate breaks and playing more than one sport help prevent injuries and burnout, but these strategies also help athletes succeed in their primary sport.

Parents should seek medical attention for their young athlete when their child has persistent pain and pain that continues to worsen – both signs of an overuse injury. Signs of burnout include sleep disturbances, mood disorders, depression, anxiety, and a lack of motivation or enthusiasm for their sport.

Learn more about CHKD’s sports medicine program at

About CHKD

About CHKD  Get pediatric health news, health tips, and more from the region's most trusted name in pediatric healthcare. Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters is a network of pediatric healthcare services in more than 40 locations that stretch from Williamsburg to Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and Virginia's only comprehensive freestanding pediatric hospital. Meet our doctors here.