Burnout and Young Athletes


We have all seen parents and sports coaches that are so negative and overbearing with young athletes that they take the fun out of sports for them. These “fun-zapping” adults are obviously detrimental for athletes’ future in the sport. Not so obvious are the more common adults, who have good intentions, but do not realize that they are slowly eroding the fun out of sports for many other young athletes. Often, parents think their kids have sports burnout when they decide to quit playing, but in reality, the fun of sport disappeared because of adult behavior.

I have worked with athletes for the past 23 years and have often seen that the well-meaning adults are often the problem with youth sports, and as mentioned, unbeknownst to the adults. The fun of the sport, as well as kids’ desire to play, gradually erodes with seemingly innocuous, negative statements by parents and coaches.

Most athletes start their sports playing days as hardworking, fun-loving kids who simply enjoy sports, as it should be. Unfortunately, that changes for many kids as they age because of the constant comments that provoke displeasure.  Additionally, not only is the fun of sport diminished, kids self-esteem and self-confidence begins to erode because of this.

Statements that take the fun out of sports for young athletes

Following are just a few of the negative sports statements that I hear all the time and that start to wear on kids. “What were you thinking on that play?” “Why did you do that?” and “I can’t believe you didn’t play better” are just a few of the negative sports statements that start to eliminate kids’ sports-playing desire.

As young athletes age and struggle with sports success, the adult statements begin to turn accusatory and much more damaging to a child’s self-esteem. “Why didn’t you do what I told you to do? “You have to practice more” and, “I thought you wanted to play” now come into play.

The final piece to the destruction of kid’s desire and fun is done with statements like, “ You are embarrassing me,” “You will never get anywhere playing that way” and “ I am not paying for you to play if that is how you are going to play.”

Adults must realize that it is very difficult to succeed in sports for most youth. Sports success requires many things including genetic talent, hard work, good coaching, and luck, just to name a few things. Young athletes, who do not have the good fortune of those ingredients, often quit playing sports at a young age. That is an understandable reason to stop playing and is the child’s choice, which is whose decision it should be. What is not understandable is the young athletes who lose the fun and desire to play because of the unnecessary and unrealistic expectations put on them by adults who display the aforementioned behavior. With that in mind, the following are behavior tips for adults so that they are not the reason why young athletes lose their desire to stop playing youth sports.

Sports Coaching Advice to Keep the Fun for Young Athletes

Adults Should:

  1. Use a calm, non-accusatory voice with as little emotion as possible, when giving athletic advice.
  2. Begin suggestions with, “You might want to try this next time” instead of “Do this, do that” phrases.
  3. Use pictures or videos, instead of words, as a teaching method.
  4. Explain “the why” when giving suggestions. This gives credibility to adult advice and may convince kids to listen.
  5. Reinforce young players coach’s suggestions.
  6. Allow kids a brief time to make mistakes before offering suggestions.
  7. Provide positive suggestions and constructive evaluation at a later, calmer time. Comments made right after games when kids are most vulnerable, is not usually the best time for suggestions.
  8. Never forget to give non-judgment comments like, “Have fun,” “I am proud of you,” ” I enjoy watching you play.” and “I always believe in you.” Kids may think they are corny statements but will like hearing them, nonetheless.
  9. Let kids know that, as long as their effort and preparation is there, you will understand any results.

Parents, who use these tactics, will not be the source of their kids wanting to quit playing sports, which is the overall goal of positive parenting in sports.  

Jack Perconte has dedicated his post-major league baseball career to helping youth. He has taught baseball and softball for the past 27 years. His playing, coaching and parenting stories create better experiences for athletes and parents. Jack has written over a thousand articles on coaching baseball and youth sports. Jack is the author of “The Making of a Hitter” and “Raising an Athlete.” His third book “Creating a Season to Remember” is now available. Jack is a featured writer for Baseball the Magazine. You can also find Jack Perconte on YouTube with over 120 fun and innovative baseball instructional videos. 

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