10 Signs of Burnout in Your Athletes

Burnout. It can happen to anyone in any field. Whether its professional soccer players or college students working two jobs to pay for tuition, many people simply get burned out from exerting maximum effort over an extended period of time. Athletes are extremely susceptible to burnout. Learn to recognize the signs.

Today’s post will be a bit shorter. However, it packs a punch. Burnout is very rarely induced by a young athlete’s decisions. It is usually brought about by their environment and pressure from adults.

Parents, coaches, and athletic directors are the main culprits in athlete burnout. Athletic directors at smaller programs are more likely to push athletes to the point of burnout. Those that are in charge of bigger programs are able to rely on a larger talent pool.

No matter your situation, you still need to be able to recognize when an athlete is reaching burnout. Athletes that are pushed over the edge often make rash decisions that they regret later.

The following points are taken from an article in the Sociology of Sport Journal. The thoughts along with them are from TheAthleticDirectors.com.


1) Increased fatigue or prolonged weariness.

The athlete will constantly look as if they’re dragging or dogging it. If the athlete is seemingly always tired, be careful. Burnout draweth nigh.


2) Increased irritability and/or apathy.

Physical, mental, and emotional stress will lead to changes in attitude. An athlete approaching the burnout point will not seem like themselves.


3) Increased physical complaints or injuries with no apparent medical cause.

Phantom injuries with vague descriptions will pop up. The athlete is looking for a break. Claiming injury is usually their best ticket. We’re not saying that there is no pain and they’re faking, however the injury/pain is usually psychosomatic.


4) Consistent feelings of intense ambivalence toward practice or competition including expressed desire to quit.

This is the sign of an athlete on the edge. The sport that they once loved and enjoyed is now a drudgery. Talk of quitting becomes common.


5) Frequent missed practices or skipped games.

This is the least common sign of burnout. Since many athletes that are candidates for burnout are pushed to compete by adults, they are required to be at all practices and games. However, if frequent absence is becoming an issue, be alert to burnout.


6) Inexplicable pattern of poor athletic performance.

Some athletes may still want to compete even though they are approaching burnout. Their body, though, can’t take it any more. Overuse injuries, wandering thoughts, exhaustion all lead to lack of focus which leads to poor performance.


7) Decreased confidence.

Since the athlete on the edge of burnout is questioning continued participation, they begin to doubt their own abilities. Even in areas where they excel, these athletes suffer a major blow to their self-esteem.


8) Behaviors that undermine further athletic participation such as poor attitude and effort.

Behaviors like poor academic performance and change in diet/exercise become common. These actions often spill over onto the athletic field.


9) Participation in fewer age-appropriate activities (such as time with friends) for the sake of sport commitment (especially true for teens).

Kids are kids. Sometimes adults need to remember that. Athletes that are constantly competing need to spend time with kids their own age in areas other than athletics. Church youth group outings and other similar outlets are very valuable.


10) Parents engage in a pattern of risky sacrifice to aid child’s athletic career (serious life choices or family decisions based on the parents’ view of child’s athletic potential).

This is hard to recognize as a parent. However, parents are the biggest contributor to athlete burnout. All the extra training, practice, and games that an athlete has can’t make up for natural talent and ability. So don’t make every family decision based off a young athlete’s potential college scholarship. If you burn them out before they get there then what good is it?


There are many causes of burnout, but learn how to recognize the signs. Give the athlete a short break. Everyone needs time to refresh including young athletes.

Main points are taken from: J. Coakley, “Burnout Among Adolescent Athletes: A Personal Failure or Social Problem?” Sociology of Sport Journal 9 (1992): 271-285.

Can you think of any other signs of burnout not mentioned above?

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of TheAthleticDirectors.com.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “10 Signs of Burnout in Your Athletes

    • Friday’s article will be about the reasons/causes of burnout. Solution to burnout varies from athlete to athlete. The thought is intriguing, though. I think prevention is the best route to take. The best offense is a good defense.