What's leading to youth sports burnout? Injuries, intense competition among reasons, study says

ByRob Hughes WLS logo
Monday, January 22, 2024
What's leading to youth sports burnout?
The new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says 70% of kids are dropping out by the age of 13.

CHICAGO -- Young athletes are quitting sports at a high rate.

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says 70% of kids are dropping out by the age of 13.

Experts say while the demands on young athletes continue to grow, there are sensible and safe ways to play.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is also updating guidance for families navigating the demanding world of youth sports.

"I know it's hard for families, because they're often not sure how much is too much. But we really want to emphasize that there is a sensible way to participate," said AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness Chair Dr. Rebecca Carl.

Researchers say one in 10 young athletes experience burnout. Josh Aling knows how intense the competition can be for young athletes. His daughter plays soccer at Washington University in St. Louis.

"My daughter had a serious foot injury her junior year, and it seemed to be 100% related to burnout," Aling said. "It's just something had to give and I think it was her foot's way of telling her, 'Hey, I need a break right now.'"

Aling said his daughter played year-round to catch the attention of college coaches. He said the competition is tough, with thousands of girls competing for limited roster spots with college programs.

"I just don't think the reality of being able to play multiple sports, or the reality of taking a break or skipping something is possible, because it's kind of become something where everyone is chasing the same common goals. Everyone wants to play in college or at the next level," Aling said.

The physical toll is real, but these days, doctors are equally concerned about the mental and emotional impact of burnout.

"Frankly, if you start a kid really early, they just have a higher risk of burning out, and saying, at some point, 'Look, I just don't want anything to do with this anymore. It's too stressful. It's creating anxiety. I'm being forced to decide between other things that are important to me and they just start withdrawing,'" said Dr. Nik Verma, director of sports medicine and Midwest orthopedics at RUSH.

Experts recommend young athletes participate in only one sport per day and get at least one day of rest per week from all organized sport activities. They also say young athletes need two to three months off from each sport every year.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that suggests that early specialization in youth sports results in any better performance later in life in that single sport," Verma said.

Verma said the symptoms of burnout can be vague, making it challenging for parents to notice something is up.

He says look out for your kids being unusually tired, chronic fatigue, a dip in performance at school and reluctance to go to practice.