Dr. Eric Martin
With today’s intense youth sport environment, the frequency of athlete burnout is becoming a concern. Coaches, parents, and athletes themselves can engage in certain practices to decrease the likelihood of athlete burnout. Below are a few suggestions for how to help athletes stay motivated in sport and avoid burnout.
Create a fun training environment. Regardless of level, a fun sport environment is a critical component to keeping athletes engaged and refreshed in sport. Olympic level athletes consistently cite fun and enjoyment during training as a key to helping them fall in love with their sport and reach their high levels. Just a note – a fun environment can still be challenging, intense, and skill focused.
Build social relationships within your team. A consistent reason cited by youth for their sport participation is to be with friends and build relationships with others their own age. Creating an environment where athletes feel comfortable and safe is a key to helping these relationships grow. Allowing for pair drills and mixing partners so everyone can connect is a great way to ensure athletes have the social relationships that can buffer feelings of burnout.
Give your athletes some choice. One main cause of burnout is the feeling that athletes have no autonomy in their own sport. Providing athletes choices can ensure they feel empowered, stay motivated, and develop leadership skills. Giving athletes the option of Drill A or Drill B might create some extra work for you, but it will make athletes feel invested in practice time and let them know you value their thoughts.
Be aware of messages you are sending. Your children are smart and notice what you do as much, if not more, than what you say. Be sure the messages you are sending are supportive and encouraging and not distracting or negative. If you tell your child that fun is the most important thing in sport, but then get mad when they lose in a competition, it adds confusion and stress to their plate.
Promote balance. Sport can be a great opportunity for personal development, but youth need to have the opportunity to explore other areas of interest as well. Help athletes find time to participate in non-sport events they may enjoy or ensure they have time to hang out with friends. The opportunity to try new things can help them appreciate the sport environment more and keep them refreshed throughout the year.
Help them understand they are more than an athlete to you. Many parents get as disappointed (sometimes more so!) than the player themselves when an athlete plays poorly. Regardless of your own feelings about the performance, be sure your child knows you love them regardless of their performance. A great motto to tell your athlete is “I love watching you play!”
Play for your why. In sport, distractions exist that can take our focus away from what is most important. A simple exercise to try to refocus on the most important aspects in sport is to ask the question “What is your why?” In essence, what do you enjoy most about your sport and what do you want to accomplish. If athletes can reflect on why they are involved in sport in the first place, it can keep them refreshed and help avoid burnout.
Prioritize nutrition and sleep. Athletes are much more capable of dealing with stress when they are rested and when they focus on healthy eating. Burnout symptoms can sometimes manifest when we neglect our health and wellbeing. Paying attention to health and sleep is one way to ensure your body is fueled and ready to perform at the top of their abilities.
Dr. Eric Martin is an Assistant Professor at Boise State University and Co-director of the Center for Physical Activity and Sport(CPAS).Dr Martin is a Certified Mental Performance Coach who has worked with middle school, high school, and collegiate athletes focusing on enhancing performance through the development of mental skills. His research interest is in youth sports, specifically motivation, burnout and positive youth development. If you have comments or questions for Dr. Martin feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org