The modern youth athlete is inundated with a busier lifestyle than ever before. They bounce from one sporting season right into the next with often little to no break at all. What used to be summer break has now turned into ‘non-mandatory mandatory workouts for coaches seeking to get a leg up on the competition in the coming year. Couple this with the fact that some athletes who play multiple sports at once have significant loads of school work, relationship/social stressors, parent stressors, and the whole puberty things going on all at once. Talk about a full plate.
It is no wonder why young athletes get burnt out or injured, yet some coaches and parents are ignorantly left scratching their heads, wondering where things went wrong. Being a parent or a coach is no easy task either, but as the guardian or mentor, it is imperative to recognize when a child or young adult needs to take a break. This requires both the ability to communicate and keep a close eye on how the athlete behaves or performs. Outside of the obvious reason of severe injury, some signs of an athlete who may need a break are as follows:
Signs Your Athlete Needs A Break
- Lack of motivation, interest, and or effort
- Consistent decrease in performance
- Recurring injuries
- Unmanageable stress or anxiety
There are potentially more signs of an athlete yearning for a break from their sport. However, these can likely all be major warning sign. An athlete may not always display their need to take a break outwardly. Thus it is important to communicate with them and check in regularly effectively. If an athlete is in need of a sports break, it is also extremely important to go about it correctly.
How To Take The Break:
1) Communication Across The Board
Taking a break from sports is not always as easy as it sounds. Sure, disappearing from the face of the Earth for a couple of weeks might sound nice, but the problems ensuing will bring greater stress. The first place to start is actually preemptively, and by that, I mean to establish an open line of communication between the athlete and coach or athlete and parent, depending on what role you are in. Get a feel for the athlete’s personality, what their worries are, and what helps keep them on track. Doing so will allow for easier monitoring of when something seems to be off, or when a trend may be starting that can easily be fixed before it’s too late. Not only does the communication between adults help in their understanding of the athlete’s disposition, but it also helps in the athlete’s ability to feel comfortable talking about issues they may have. Being proactive is the best way to avoid unwanted or unplanned breaks altogether.
2) Timing Is Key
Breaks are only effective if they are timed well, plain and simple. There is a reason why NFL teams don’t take a bye week after only 2-3 games because that same break is quite obviously more effective 8-10 weeks down the road when fatigue and injuries have started to set in. The same goes for the young athlete. Strategically planning breaks can make a world of difference in preserving energy and motivation. The key is again going back to effective communication skills, talking to the coaches before the start of the season if parenting, and discussing what the best option for a little hiatus is if necessary.
3) Don’t Stretch One’s Self Too Thin
We are all guilty of this at one point, simply biting off more than we can chew. Attempting to play too many sports at once or simply failing to ever have an off-season is a recipe for disaster. I am all for being a multi-sport athlete and staying active to some degree year-round. Still, if the difference between playing a spring sport that maybe is not an athlete’s primary focus after a long Fall and Winter sports season or simply resting up is a choice, then perhaps it is wise to choose the latter. This of course, again falls on communication and time management.
4) Look At The Big Picture
At the moment, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and feel the need to throw in the white towel. However, when we take a step back, it can clarify what is really going on. If an athlete wants to take a break from their sport, I believe they have the right to do so. That being said, I am also a firm believer in the notion that once something is started, it has to be finished. Quitting a sport after starting should only be done after the conclusion of a season, never mid-way through. This is an important paradigm to adopt at an early age. After that, simply wanting to take a break must be weighed out. Asking why a break feels necessary and getting to the root cause is an important step. Often this is one of the greatest learning experiences of all. Did the athlete simply stop enjoying the sport? Are they in need of a break become they thought they could handle more with their time? Are they not yet familiar with the fact that wanting breaks are sometimes normal but do not mean it always has to be acted upon? It is important to ask these questions before ultimately deciding what to do. It will be a valuable learning experience. Taking a break is something we all need from time to time. Athletes are no different. Most importantly, coaches and parents can help the athletes all along the way.