Highly competitive youth athletes may risk burnout

February 7, 2013

Topic: sports medicine

A new development may lower the risk of concussions in youth football players.

Many kids participate in youth sports while growing up, as it can be a fun and exciting way to spend time when not at school. However, highly competitive young athletes may run the risk of burning out due to the high demand that coaches, parents and team members tend to place on them, according to a new sports medicine study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

British researchers looked at how perfectionism affected more than 150 junior male soccer players who played for their schools. They discovered that about 25 percent of of the subjects had at one time or another experienced the symptoms of burnout.

Identifying overtraining syndrome
The term burnout is used to describe overtraining syndrome, which is a condition in which an individual endures fatigue and his or her performance decreases as a result, despite any training that is happening. It usually occurs because an athlete is physically and emotionally stressed by practice and competition, which, in turn, can alter hormone levels and suppress the immune system.

Symptoms of overtraining syndrome include chronic muscle and joint discomfort, weight loss, increased heart rate while resting, fatigue, decreased sports performance, prolonged recovery time, lack of enthusiasm, personality changes and sleep disturbances. To avoid overtraining syndrome, it is important for coaches and trainers to recognize when athletes have begun to overreach, according to USA Swimming. They should know when training gets to be too much.

The need to be perfect
Major contributors to the condition include pressure from peers to not make mistakes, and the need to be perfect. While perfectionism can be a great source of motivation for athletes, it can also take a toll on their mental well-being, especially if an individual is stuck in a self-defeating cycle.

"We need sport to be a positive experience for all participants," said Andrew Hill, Ph.D, lecturer in sports and exercise science. "Sport can be used as a vehicle to develop life skills, a sense of self-esteem and quality relationships with others, but we know it can lead to disaffection, poor moral decision making and make people feel miserable about themselves. There is nothing necessarily positive about sport. It is about the environment that is created."

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