Everybody involved in youth sports has seen the same play.

A young athlete who has played his or her sport for several years decides to simply walk away. They are tired of playing and just not having fun anymore.

In today’s youth sports culture, this phenomenon has become so common that it has a label: sports burnout. 

But what’s behind this trend? 

Two medical experts recently shared their thoughts on the subject in a new video produced as part of the US Lacrosse | MedStar Sports Medicine Health & Performance Series.

“Burnout is basically a response to chronic stress,” said Lisa Hepburn, senior research associate for the MedStar Sports Medicine Research Center. “In terms of the youth athlete, being under a sense of stress can be physical, from performing and practicing, or it can be psychological stress.”

Hepburn says that research identifies a number of specific causes that lead to this burnout, from early specialization to overscheduling to the lack of control over decision making.

“If everybody is always making the decisions for them, whether that’s a parent or a coach, often that’s related to kids experiencing burnout,” Hepburn said. “Kids feel like they have some control when they are empowered in their sport to make decisions about how much time they are putting into it.” 

The other key component is the fun factor. Kids who are being asked to work a lot harder than the fun they are having often choose to just walk away.


“Children, like adults, gravitate to new activities because they are fun and they enjoy doing it,” said Lew Lyon, vice president of MedStar Sports Medicine. “But when it no longer becomes fun, we start to increase the manifestation of burnout.”

Parents and coaches can help attenuate the risk of burnout by focusing on the achievements of youth players, rather than the failures. Reducing the pressure to succeed and cutting back the intensity of participating are among the recommended strategies. Focusing less on competition and more on skill development has been shown to be associated with greater retention rates. 

“The best advice I would give is to have balance,” Lyon said. “It’s got to be fun and enjoyable.” 

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The Center for Sport Science at US Lacrosse seeks to expand, broaden and elevate the safety initiatives that the national governing body has been committed to since its creation in 1998.

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