A common criticism of club sports programs (baseball, hockey, soccer, volleyball, etc…) is that kids get “burned out”. This can be a legitimate concern for players, parents and coaches. It is sad to everyone when a player no longer enjoys a sport.

But, the term “burnout” is being used way too frequently these days; making this topic is worth discussing.
Over the past decade, I have been around hundreds of young men that have played A LOT of baseball. And, I honestly cannot recall a single pure case of “burnout” — where a player had passion for baseball, but then lost that passion because he played TOO MUCH baseball.
Instead, all of the cases where a player/parent used the term “burnout” were one of four situations:
  • The player simply had too many competing priorities on his plate. There is a limit to what a teenager can do. The combination of 1-2 sports plus high level academics is pretty close to the limit. When you start adding music, choir, boy scouts, church groups, college applications, ACT tests, school clubs, a 2nd or 3rd sport, girls, part-time jobs, etc.. , it gets out of control very fast. All of those things are good and worthy activities. But, there is only so much time available. It is impossible for a teenager to be successful in 10 different things. It may superficially look good on a college application. But, we all know that truly successful people set priorities and focus their attention on the things that are most important to them.
  • Instead of being truly “burned out”, the player has decided that he no longer wants to advance to college level baseball, so the hard work is no longer worth it. Sometimes there is a disconnect between where a player can play college baseball and where he wants to go to college. Of course, you never know until you try — so I am always suspicious about this (there are hundreds of great colleges to choose from across the country). This may be a rational decision — but it is NOT burnout. This looks a lot more like quitting to me. Quitting when things get difficult can become a hard habit to break.
  • The parents — not the player — were burned out from the schedule, travel and cost of club sports. This is 10x more likely than player burnout since the parents do not experience the joy of working hard, being part of a team and playing the game. So, we need to be very careful to separate player burnout from parent burnout. Parent burnout is a more common issue.
  • The burnout was not truly the result of the sport — but was the result of a pressure packed player-parent relationship that surrounds the sport. Dads (and Moms) that push too hard for their son’s success can create a situation where he finally pushes back. Club sports tend to attract driven parents. This parental pressure, on top of the normal competitive pressure of club sports, can be too much for a teenager. Players can get burned out from the double decker pressure that surrounds his sport.
So, the four secrets to dealing with situations above are:
  • Teach young athletes to prioritize their activities, to make sure they are selecting activities that are most important to them. If baseball drops off the list, then that is OK. But, that is not burnout — it is called setting priorities and is an important part of growing up. If baseball can help teach that lesson, then it has played a significant role in a young man’s development.
  • Help young men through the decision process on college baseball, so they can make rational decisions and decide early on whether or not they want to push for that goal. A young man is better off making that determination at 15, instead of working hard to do everything right, but then quitting at 17.
  • Deal with parent burnout. Find ways to make it easier for parents to be part of a club sports by relieving schedule and travel requirements. Program organization, communication and advanced scheduling help alleviate parent burnout.
  • Teach parents to be supportive and active, but not to ADD to the pressure of club sports. The Positive Coaching Alliance offers a good online course on this called “Second Goal Parent” (it is worth the $30). This transition is very challenging to a lot of parents. But, it makes a big difference in a players’ perception of the game. And, makes it more likely for a young man to continue to love the game.
In addition to the situations above, there is more a natural form of frustration and personal anxiety that comes with high level sports. Everyone feels this way sometimes, and it feels like you are “burned out”. Face it, no one enjoys doing box jumps or 2 sets of 50 pick-ups. And, no one enjoys an 0-15 slump at the plate, or walking the winning run. Sometimes the combination of hard work and the frustration of failure feels overwhelming. The process of playing high level baseball is not easy.
When you reach this point of frustration, it is easy to quit and claim “burnout”. But, to truly excel at something requires that you get to this point of “burnout” and then push through it. Repeatedly.
Sometimes you do need a break to re-energize (the offseason).
But, 9 times out of 10, players love their sport, love to play it and love working hard to get better. Sometimes a player just needs a little support and mentoring to help push through to the next level.
But, “burnout” cannot be used as a cop out when things get hard or when conflicting priorities emerge. It is not an excuse for quitting. Players that can learn to push through this point have learned an important life lesson.
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