Travis Irby, M.A., M.Ed
Many athletes compete in sports year round. Sometimes the athlete is involved in one sport with one long season spent with various school and club teams throughout the year. Other times, an athlete is involved in several different sports over a year. Whatever the case, it is important that the year-round athlete prevent the mental and physical burnout that can come with the rigors of never-ending competition.
Any sport or sports competed in should provide skills development, fun, and enjoyable sportsmanship. Sports should never be viewed as a chore. Even when enjoying sports, an athlete must remember that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.
One of the most common issues associated with year-round competition is overuse caused by too much physical activity and too little rest. Children and adolescents are very vulnerable to these types of injuries. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defined an overuse injury as a micro traumatic injury to bone, muscle, or tendon that has been subjected to repetitive stress without sufficient time to heal. Overuse is more of a concern with younger athletes because their bones are still growing and don’t handle stress as well as adult bones.
According to the report, these younger year-round athletes should not train more than five days a week and should take at least one day off. They should work with only one team per season. These athletes should also take time off from each sport for a couple of months a year, to allow injuries to heal, and the athlete can work on strength and conditioning for injury prevention.
This rest also allows the younger year-round athlete to take a psychological break, which helps reduce burnout. Sometimes called overtraining syndrome, burnout symptoms include chronic physical pain, decreased athletic performance, lack of enthusiasm, and fatigue. Younger athletes need to be educated about the possibility of burnout and how to avoid the problem.
Older athletes who compete year round also need to consider the issues of burnout and overuse. Having competed for a longer time than younger ones, these athletes will have a better idea of their limits in regards to year-round competition but should still be mindful of the pitfalls of a never ending season.
Many times, younger year-round athletes get caught up in the idea of playing professional sports or competing in the Olympics. This is not a realistic reason to compete year round in athletics. Often youthful year-round athletes are trying to win college scholarships or entry into professional leagues by playing one sport year round. The last thing sports should emphasize is a goal that less than 1% of high school athletes attain. The likelihood of serious injury may be a higher percentage. The focus should be enjoying the exercise and competition that sports provide.
- Brenner, J. S., and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes. Pediatrics (2007) 119 (6): 1242-1245.
- Gustafsson, H., Hassmén, P., Kenttä, G., & Johansson, M. A qualitative analysis of burnout in elite swedish athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise (2008) 9(6), 800-816.
- Hill, A. P., Hall, H. K., Appleton, P. R., & Kozub, S. A. Perfectionism and burnout in junior elite soccer players: The mediating influence of unconditional self-acceptance. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, (2008) 9(5): 630-644.