Visit Our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Section ⇒



Exhausted runners on a track

Feel The Burn That Is Burnout

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine
Published Date: Tuesday, May 17, 2016

By: Dave Lehan, ATC

In today’s ultra-competitive world of sports, coaches and parents are looking for that competitive edge. The thought process is with more training and more practice, the better the athlete will be. Given this trend it is no surprise that burnout is on the rise. A large number of young adolescent athletes do not limit their sport to a given season and are involved in year round organized athletics. All in the pursuit of athletic success, creating pressure to begin high intensity training and to what is called sport specialization. Even the term burnout has been given a new name of Overtraining Syndrome where an imbalance in the equation of training equals workout plus recovery, and in today’s sport world young athletes are not given adequate recovery time.

As a parent of two varsity sport athletes, both basketball and softball, I can say that my daughters where under tremendous pressure to focus on one sport. Both daughters where often told by coaches and trainers at a very young age that they needed to give up the other sport and concentrate on one if they expected to reach that elite level. Both daughters said they enjoyed each sport equally and looked forward to the changing of one season to the next and that each sport had its own joy. Both daughters enjoyed the competition and strived to do their best but did not want to give up one sport for the other. As a parent, I could see by the end of one season they were ready for a change and new challenges. By participating in multiple sports, my daughters enjoyed different teammates, different coaches, and different experiences from season to season and this allowed them to grow in many different ways.

As an Athletic Trainer, I have seen evidence that shows specialization is counterproductive and leads to young athletes leaving the sport they love. As a high school Athletic Trainer I have seen elite players leave the sport they love for one reason and one reason only: they can no longer commit to the tremendous demands on their time for year round sports. An example is youth baseball. Some players are asked to play in the spring, a summer league, a wooden bat league, a fall ball league and finally commit to weight training with indoor hitting and throwing clinics during the winter months. Baseball is not alone in this high-intensity training program many sports employ this same model in the pursuit of athletic success. Studies have shown that most elite/professional athletes played multiple sports growing up. David Epstein, author of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, maintains that research shows elite athletes played multiple sports in their youth and did not specialize until their adult life. The American Academy of Pediatrics has come out against youth sport specialization stating young athletes may go through a variety of psychological and physiological changes including chronic muscle and joint pain, personality or mood changes, and increased injuries and illness.

How much is too much? This can be a hard question to answer when it comes to practice duration and intensity for young athletes. Each athlete is different and what works for one does not mean it will work for another. Here are some simple parameters to help reduce burnout in young athletes.

  • Maximum sport activity 5 days per week
  • Seasonal rest (2-3 months off per year)
  • Participation on one team per season
  • Focus on appropriate nutrition and sleep
  • Limit tournament play

These are just a few ideas for coaches and parents to implement and it is important for coaches and parents to talk with their young athletes to make sure they are working at the level appropriate for the athlete. Next, what are the signs coaches and parents can look for which may indicate an athlete is experiencing Overtraining Syndrome?

These signs can be easily overlooked; it is important for both coaches and parents to be cognitive of their young athlete’s mental well-being and able to recognize small changes.

  • Lack of emotion after a win or loss
  • Decrease in performance both in sports and classroom
  • Apathetic towards their sport
  • Unusual focus on aches and pains
  • Withdrawal from teammates

As an Athletic Trainer, I can in my high school athletes a desire not to play their sport anymore when they have a tendency to spend more time in the training room and not wanting to return to practices or games. The athlete tends to complain about more nagging injuries and seem happy not to return to activity while having an injury to blame for his or her inability to return.

For coaches, parents and athletes the focus needs to be more on the sport as a means of developing teamwork, leadership, improved sports skills and a way to enhance fitness and well-being, especially at younger ages. Sports should be fun, something the athlete gets enjoyment and a satisfaction of pride for doing something well, and focused on developing friendships. Sports should be less about scholarships, pro contracts, medals and year round training. Sports should be more about the psychological and physiological well-being of young athletes.


  • John P. DiFiori MD , Holly J. Bejamin MD, Joel Brenner, MD MPH, Andrew Gregory, MD, Neeru Jayanthi, MD, Greg L. Landry, MD, and Anthony Luke, MD MPH. Overuse Injuries and Burnout in youth Sports, Clinical journal of sports medicine.
  • Phil Maffetone, Overtraining syndrome, MAF
  • and featured articles/for parents/overtraining.

Like this post?

Sign up to receive our once monthly email with up-to-date sports performance and sports medicine information from CHKD's sports medicine experts.

About CHKD Sports Medicine

About CHKD Sports Medicine  CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.