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Youth Athletes and Early Burn-out

The real dangers of overtraining

By Michael K Butler BA; PTA; CSCS*D; RSCC*D; NMT

Eager parents often come to me to train their son/daughter, only to find that there is no time for them to train due to their other sport commitments. Some of these athletes are playing more than one sport, but are doing so at the expense of their own health. Some are active from 6am until 10pm at night with school, practice, traveling, tournaments and homework.

The first question I ask is, “What are your goals?” Usually it is the parents who respond, “We want a division 1 scholarship.”

Burn-out or overtraining syndrome occurs as a result of physiologic or emotional stress, fatigue, immune system failure, or insufficient recovery time. The athlete is working out at such an ongoing high intensity without adequate recovery that their performance starts to suffer and their body language reflects disinterest.

The driving force behind the young athlete going 24/7 first starts out as a social need to be around their friends. As an athlete gets older, she/he usually participates in a club sport which is offered when the high school sport isn’t in season. So this means they are playing one sport year round. If they choose a second sport, there may be a schedule conflict, forcing the athlete to choose between the two sports.

An athlete that I trained several years ago was a serious contender for a scholarship for both volleyball and soccer. She was busy 7 days a week year round for 2 years because she was at such an elite level and both of her teams went to state or national finals. She was seeing me sometimes two days a week for training, and the majority of our sessions would deal with just recovery. Because she didn’t have a good recovery plan, one day in soccer practice her knee gave out. She had completely torn all the ligaments and cartilage and fractured the growth plate without even making contact. She was out of sports for two years, needed three surgeries and unfortunately lost any hope of a scholarship.

The signs and symptoms of early burn-out and overtraining in young athletes are as follows:       

  • They used to get excited about playing their sport or training.
  • Their performance stresses them out.
  • A poor practice or game performance ruins their day.
  • They seem to always be sore or have lingering injuries/pains.
  • Their sleep pattern has changed or becomes irregular.
  • Even if they do sleep, they don’t feel rested.
  • They crave more sugar and carbohydrates than they used to.
  • They’re often getting sick, and the illness lingers for weeks.
  • They’ve hit a performance plateau or performance has started to decline.
  • They have difficulty completing usual routines.
  • They have decreased appetite or have lost weight.

There are true dangers of overtraining, and therefore it is important to make sure kids are getting enough recovery time from their sport and are enjoying just being a kid.

Michael K. Butler is co-owner of Kinetix Health and Performance Center and can be reached at (760) 200.1719.

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