“Burnout” is overused term

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  true “burnout” — where a player had passion for baseball, but then lost that passion because he played TOO MUCH baseball.  That just does not happen.

Instead, all of the cases where a player/parent used the term “burnout” were one of three 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.  If elite sports is not the short list of priorities, then that’s a rational decision — but it is not burnout. 
  • 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.  Again, this may be a rational decision — but it is NOT burnout.
  • The parents — not the player — get 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 real and is a lot more common issue.

So, the 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. Also, it is important to be realistic about college selection and let college fit guide the process.  A successful college experience is a lot more important than just playing college baseball.
  • 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.

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.  These are “sticking points”.

When players 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 sticking point and push through it. Repeatedly.

A short  break to re-energize can help  (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 sticking points.
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