In today’s society, highly-driven young athletes often struggle with overtraining syndrome. Children are often surrounded by the hype of sports and it is easy to see how a young athlete could push themselves too far in their quest to be a great athlete.

As one would expect, often when young patients are asked what they aspire to be when they grow up, a large number respond that they dream of being an Olympic or professional athlete. While this is a worthwhile and lofty positive goal, there can occasionally be a downside. Many young athletes will take training and competing too far.What is burnout or overtraining syndrome?

Burnout or overtraining syndrome occurs when an athlete has worsening performance despite intense training. It is believed to result from a multitude of factors, such as constant high levels of physiologic or emotional stress, fatigue, immune system failure, or insufficient recovery time. Athletes who experience burnout may go through a variety of psychological, physiological, or hormonal changes including:

  • Decreased sports and/or school performance
  • Chronic muscle or joint pain
  • Personality or mood changes
  • Elevated resting heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of enthusiasm or ambition
  • Difficulty completing usual routines
  • Sleep changes (more or less sleep than usual)
  • Decreased appetite and/or weight loss
  • Increased injuries, illness, or infections

Is my child at risk of overtraining/burnout?

Young athletes who develop burnout typically share specific characteristics or experiences. These risk factors include:

  • Early sports specialization – focusing on one sport from a young age
  • Playing one sport, but competing on multiple teams during a season
  • Overlapping seasons without intervals of rest
  • Year-round participation without an “off season”
  • “Type A” personality including ambitious, determined, driven, intense
  • Low self-esteem and high anxiety levels
  • Parental or coaching pressure to train and compete at a higher level

How do I avoid overtraining/burnout in my young athlete?

  • Burnout is avoidable and treatable. Reducing the chance of burnout can start with these strategies:
  • Periodization: a process of varying the training stimulus to promote long
    term fitness gains and avoid overtraining. The year as a whole is taken
    into consideration and divided up into phases. In each phase, the workout emphasizes a specific type of training. Periodization can also be placed in the span of a single week.
  • Cross-training by varying workouts to focus on conditioning, weight lifting, strength training, flexibility, or core strengthening
  • Focus on proper sport technique
  • Slow progression and avoid rapid increase in workload or intensity
  • Proper injury treatment and rehabilitation
  • Emphasis on sports as tools for fun, sportsmanship, fitness, skill acquisition,safety, or education

How much exercise is too much?

Each athlete is different; therefore what is too much for one young athlete will be just right for another. Working within these specific parameters will help reduce the chance of burnout in your young athlete:

  • Maximum sporting activity: 5 days per week
  • Minimum rest: 1 day per week
  • Seasonal rest: 2-3 months off per year (1 month off every 3 months)
  • Maximum training increase: 10% per week
  • Be sure to check in with the athlete frequently. Ask about sport motivation. Is itstill fun?
  • Focus on appropriate nutrition, hydration, and sleep

Source: Youth Sports Blog