Reflecting On Coach, Parent and Athlete Burnout


Coach Parent Athlete Burnout Youth Sports Baseball Fundamentals

This month, many of us who are involved with youth sports are taking a deep breath… another season completed or coming to an end!

For a bit.  Because just when we think we have a break, we’re all on to the next sport, or the next season, or the next camp, or the next team!  What happened to the days of an off-season?  For some youth sports parents and athletes, there just isn’t one.  But the team here at Play Positive got to thinking: should there be?  Should we as Play Positive Parents and Play Positive Coaches insist on an off-season?

There are good arguments on both sides of this valuable debate.  On the side of advocating for an off-season are those parents and coaches who point to examples of young athletes suffering burnout, or worse, injury, as a result of too much activity.

There is the story of Elena Delle Donne, the number one basketball prospect in the country who walked away from a full scholarship to women’s basketball powerhouse UConn because she felt burnt out.  In trying to explain her very personal decision to not only Coach Auriemma as well as the national media, Donne could only keep repeating “I just need some time off.”  

There is the story of Matt Harrington, the young man who owns a record in Major League Baseball, not in the regular on-the-field statistics, but for being the only player to be drafted five times without ever signing and for turning down several multi-million dollar deals opting instead for a job paying $11.50 an hour.  Harrington’s story is one where everyone looks for someone to blame: an overbearing sport parent, a greedy agent, an unfocused young man.  But Matt’s comments themselves might be the most telling.  “I want to be home. I want to be doing the things as a family more than I want to be on the road all the time playing baseball.”

Our friends at USA Softball recently shared the story with us of a young woman who was a highly-accomplished collegiate player and a prospect for a spot on the U.S. National team.  But after the final game of her senior season, as the field cleared, she took her cleats, glove, helmet, jersey and gloves and laid them down on home plate and literally walked away from softball saying, “I’m ready for something else in my life now.”  

Would the lives of these three young athletes, and the countless others that leave the game due to burnout, have been different if they had been given an off-season or given time away from the game during their youth sports season?  It’s purely speculation.

On the other side, the argument about avoiding specialization at an early age leads many of us to enroll our kids in many sports as they seek to “sample” what’s out there.  And how can you sample and experience new sports, different teams with different teammates and coaches, if you don’t embrace the idea of playing in multiple sports seasons?  Add to that, the arguments and very real data that supports everything from better health to better grades to better esteem when kids play sports.  If we embrace all of these wonderful outcomes from a youth sports experience, shouldn’t we give our kids the maximum exposure to all of this “goodness”?

The team at Positive Coaching Alliance grapples with these issues everyday in working with coaches, athletes and parents.  And their advice to Play Positive Parents and Play Positive Coaches seems very sound to us: listen to your kids.

  • Sit down and talk about your goals as opposed to their goals for their youth sports experience.  Pay attention as much to what they say as to what they don’t say and the unwritten message in body language.  
  • Talk about how your child can focus on effort and learning rather than on winning as a way to ensure their self-betterment and enjoyment are at the focal point of your child’s youth sports experience.  
  • Talk before the season starts, before a game, after a game, and at the end of the season.  Bottom line: talk.  Keep the dialog open, truthful, and ongoing.

“Goodness” for each of us in youth sports is personal and comes from the dialog more than the outcome.  And thanks to Positive Coaching Alliance, we’re proud to serve up some tools and ideas for how to foster this kind of dialog.

And in the spirit of dialog, we’d love to hear what you think about youth sports off-seasons and the topic of burnout.  (And by the way, if you’re like us, you know that there is just as much sport parenting burnout and coaching burnout as there is athlete burnout.)  We’d love to hear your thoughts!  Write us at

At Liberty Mutual Insurance, we constantly look for ways to celebrate the countless acts of sportsmanship and integrity shown by people every day. We created Play Positive, powered by Positive Coaching Alliance, as part of this belief to help ensure that our kids experience the best that sports have to offer in environments that promote and display good sportsmanship. We believe kids can learn valuable life lessons when coaches and parents come together to support winning on and off the field.

In an effort to benefit millions of youth athletes, parents and coaches, this article is among a series created exclusively for partners in the Liberty Mutual Insurance Play Positive program powered by Positive Coaching Alliance.

©2009 Liberty Mutual Insurance and Positive Coaching Alliance. All rights reserved. This material may not be distributed without express written permission. Any reproduction in whole or part by and individuals or organizations will be held liable for copyright infringement to the full extent of the law.

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