Mental Health

Burnout in Youth Sports: How to Navigate Mental Exhaustion

A teenage athlete taking a break in the locker room.

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Burnout in Youth Sports: How to Navigate Mental Exhaustion

Just like adults can experience burnout from work and all life's responsibilities, so can your children. Kids with busy schedules who participate in extracurricular activities, including after-school sports, can have increased stress and be at higher risk of burning out.

Tina Gurnani, MD, a pediatric and adolescent psychiatrist at AdventHealth for Children, explains what burnout is, signs to watch for and some helpful strategies to help your child.

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is considered a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling flooded. It happens when we experience too much mental, emotional and physical fatigue for too long. But burnout isn’t the same as feeling stressed. While too much stress can lead to burnout, “normal” stress levels can be a motivating factor that keeps us going. Burnout is a feeling of complete depletion that you have nothing left to give.

Children are experiencing stress and peer pressure in ways previous generations couldn’t have predicted. “With the dramatic rise in technology usage, social media and issues like cyberbullying — to name a few — kids today have added stressors that are not meant for children to bear,” says Dr. Gurnani. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise that so many kids are experiencing real burnout.”

What Are the Symptoms of Burnout in Kids?

Some common signs of burnout to look for include:

  • Avoiding social activities
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Fatigue and mental exhaustion
  • Physical complaints, such as aches and pains
  • Reduced interest in activities they usually enjoy

If your child shows one or more of these signs, connect with their pediatrician or a mental health professional who can help. And keep reading for tips to help them navigate their burnout.

Initiate the Conversation

Starting an open, nonjudgemental conversation with your child is a great first step to gain insight into what's happening in their life and how they feel. Listen intently and encourage honesty. Then, once you've uncovered the cause behind their emotions, you can figure out how to help.

“If your child shows signs of burnout and isn't ready to open up to you about it, you can also encourage them to see a therapist or counselor,” suggests Dr. Gurnani. “Your child's therapist can offer guidance on managing their schedule and techniques to cope with their stress.”

Negative Effects of Overscheduling Kids

While participating in sports offers a host of positive effects that benefit kids’ whole health, there are some drawbacks if adding another hefty time commitment to their busy schedules increases their stress levels.

Dr. Gurnani shares, "Participation in youth sports programs may trigger feelings of anxiety and exhaustion, as well as self-imposed and societal pressure for your child. Additionally, consider how your child's busy schedule affects their sleep, academic and overall life balance."

If your child participates in multiple activities or experiences burnout from managing an overpacked schedule, it might be time to consider whether their joy and interest in the sport outweigh feelings of overwhelm. And know that quitting isn’t necessarily the answer. Work with your children to create a schedule that’s manageable for them and your whole family.

Encourage Relaxation Techniques

Nearly everyone experiences burnout at some point, and it's not always realistic to simply drop activities and responsibilities. Relaxation and coping strategies can teach your children how to better manage their time, their feelings and their energy levels.

“Taking time out to relax amidst all your responsibilities may seem counterproductive, but it's a great way to reset and feel more grounded,” Dr. Gurnani explains.

Here are a few ideas your child can try to help them find balance:

  • Aromatherapy
  • A warm bath
  • Coloring
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling
  • Listening to music
  • Meditation or prayer

Encourage your child to incorporate one or more of these ideas or devise a different strategy that works for them. Watch for any improvements.

Treatment Options for Anxiety

Just being a kid can be stressful, and there's a fine line between burnout and anxiety. If your child doesn't seem like their usual self, consider whether they're displaying signs of anxiety, which may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling tense or fidgety
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Frequent worrying or negative thoughts
  • Lack of appetite or increased hunger
  • Lack of sleep or waking throughout the night
  • Recurring trips to the bathroom

Your child's pediatrician or a mental health professional can help diagnose and offer treatment to help them feel like themselves again.

Whole-Person Health Care for Your Child's Body, Mind and Spirit

Mental health treatment is a positive step that can give your children the lift they need, treat illness and help them balance their busy lives. Our pediatric mental health specialists are here to support your child in body, mind and spirit.

To learn more or get connected, visit

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