Recently I discussed many of the positive aspects of kids playing sports. Not only do organized sports help to provide exercise and improve physical health, but they provide emotional, social, and academic benefits as well. In fact, we showed how playing team sports could help kids’ future careers. A survey of individuals at the level of executive vice president or higher of 75 Fortune 500 companies showed that 95% of them played sports in high school.

Signs of youth sports burnoutUnfortunately the majority of young athletes give up organized sports before entering high school. It is estimated that roughly 70% of children quit organized sports by the time they are 13 years old. There are obviously many factors that contribute to that attrition rate, such as technology, academics, and changing interests. But one of the most common sports-related reasons that kids quit playing is burnout.

Many adults have experienced burnout in their jobs or other aspects of their lives, but we often fail to recognize that it can happen in young kids. It actually happens frequently with young athletes.

Before parents and coaches can work to prevent youth sports burnout, they have to be able to recognize signs of the problem. Here are some important clues that a young athlete might be suffering from burnout.

Sports performance changes

Inconsistent or performance routinely below normal
Decreased ability to perform routine sport-specific tasks, such as running certain plays or knowing assignments
Lack of motivation to practice or play in games
Lack of enjoyment from the sport or interest in the outcome of competitions
Being uncooperative or disagreeable with coaches and teammates
Feeling that he or she is not helping, or is even hurting, the team

Emotional and attitude changes
Fatigue ranging from a mild decreased energy level with daily activities and sports to utter exhaustion
Irritability or quick mood swings
Lack of the ability to concentrate
Not wanting to talk, even to family and friends
Difficulty sleeping
Not being or feeling hungry

Girl showing signs of youth sports burnout

Health changes
Frequent complaints of vague, nonspecific muscle or joint pain
Slower recovery from injuries that should respond more quickly
Getting sick (medical illnesses) more often

Not every young athlete experiencing youth sports burnout will exhibit all, or even many of these signs. And parents and coaches should remember that there can be many reasons other than sports burnout for some of these changes. But if parents and coaches will look for these signs of burnout, we might keep kids playing sports for many more years.