Burnout afflicts people in all walks of life, from health care workers to educators, to Fortune 500 executives to professional athletes and their coaches.
Burnout victims step away from their livelihoods because the passion they once had for their chosen profession is gone, and they have exhausted their supply of physical and emotional energy.
In short, they have nothing more to give.
Increasingly, burnout is becoming an issue in youth sports. Young athletes are becoming tired of spending their childhoods and adolescence on the road, traveling to one tournament or another because someone has convinced them or their parents that’s what they need to do to keep up with the competition or land a college scholarship.
This phenomenon has become more prevalent in the past couple of decades as an increasing number of athletes focus exclusively on one sport at younger and younger ages.
At some point, they decide they’ve had enough, that they’d rather spend a summer weekend with their friends as opposed to traveling a couple of hundred miles for yet another tournament. The sport to which they’ve devoted so much time and energy is no longer a source of fun and enjoyment.
How best to combat this phenomenon? LPGA Tour player Jessica Korda has a unique perspective on the subject.
To say that Korda and her siblings have enjoyed success in sports would be an understatement. Jessica, who is 29, has competed on the LPGA Tour since 2011 and has won six tournaments. Her sister Nelly, who turns 24 on July 28, has competed on the LPGA Tour since 2017, recording seven wins, including a major championship. And her brother Sebastian, who turns 22 on July 5, plays professional tennis on the ATP Tour; as of this writing, he is ranked 30th in the world and has reached the fourth round of two Grand Slam events, the French Open in 2020 and Wimbledon last year.
The Kordas got their athletic prowess from their parents, both of whom played professional tennis. Petr Korda, a native of what was then Czechoslovakia, won the Australian Open title in 1998, while their mother Regina Rajchrtová was ranked as high as 26th in the world and was a 1988 Olympian.
For all she and her siblings have accomplished, Jessica Korda says her parents took care not to have their children’s athletic passions consume them or dominate their lives.
“It was a balance that our parents gave us,” she said. “We didn’t play golf (year-round). We would go skiing, go do other things, be kids. I would hang out with my cousin in Prague during the summers and play minimal golf.
“For us, it was kind of being kids first and kind of athletes second, and we went out there when we wanted to. But obviously, there were times where we still did need to get pushed to go out there, and that’s kind of, I guess, the balance that they instilled in us at a young age.
“It was not something we did 24/7, and that’s the important thing. When we went home, we would talk about other things. We would play board games. We would just be outside, be kids or do homework, whatever it was. It wasn’t just our sports 24/7, and I think that’s really, really important. As a junior (golfer), I think I only played like eight or nine events. It wasn’t a lot.”
Success in youth sports is about enjoyment, fun, and absorbing life lessons. There is a lot more to sports than earning a college scholarship. A 12-year-old soccer player should not be made to feel like a failure because he/she failed to make an elite travel team. Nor should they be pressured into focusing on soccer to the point of dropping other sports or other activities a typical 12-year-old night indulge in.
Here are some thoughts on how parents can help their children derive the most enjoyment from their sports experiences
• Encourage your child to play more than one sport. If they play nothing but basketball year-round, they are likely to grow tired of it at some point down the road Additionally, focusing on one sport leads to additional wear and tear on the body and increased risk of injury.
• If you choose to critique your child’s performance, start with something positive. It could be “That was a nice pass you made” or “I like the way you cheered for your teammates.” Only then should you mention something that perhaps they could have done better.
• Make it clear you love your child unconditionally, regardless of their level of success or achievement in sports.
• Resist the temptation to compare your child’s athletic achievements to those of other children. Children grow and mature physically, mentally, and emotionally at different rates. Celebrate your child’s accomplishments in their own right.