This year has been all soccer for my son. He has played almost nonstop from the freshman season until now, and has become an excellent striker; starting for the varsity team as a sophomore. While I am proud of all he has accomplished, I am beginning to see the signs of burnout. He isn’t finishing his homework, and is fighting a nagging hip injury. I want him to take the spring off to regroup. He’s worried that his skills will decline, and wants to keep playing. We need a professional to help us choose, what do you recommend?
– Burned Out
Dear Burned Out,
First, congratulations on having such a driven young man! In the era of smart phones, social media, and easy internet entertainment, having a year-round athlete is certainly something to be proud of. He is setting himself up for a lifetime of activity and athleticism; and his drive will serve him well in the future.
Yet we must balance that drive with a level of realism. Should we compete all the time? No. So how do we choose when to stop competing and focus on something different? While I cannot referee between your fears and your son’s desires, hopefully I can give you some data to help you decide the right course of action.
Your Greatest Sports Ability is Availability – Many young athletes feel like every game is the big game, so they play through those nagging aches and pains. Then, just before the real big game, they are suddenly sidelined with an overuse injury, or worse, a season-ending one. Nagging pains are your body’s way of telling you that you have something to pay attention to. Make sure you listen, and find a professional that can help you address the issue quickly.
Muscles Atrophy, Skills Don’t – I run into many young athletes that worry that their skills will degrade in the offseason. While I understand their worry, I think they are focused on the wrong thing. Does anyone honestly believe that Kobe Bryant forgot how to hit a free throw when he retired? Of course not. Why? Because skills are stored in your memory, not your muscles. But muscles do atrophy, often in as little as a week of inactivity. So it’s perfectly ok to take some time off of your sport, as long as you are maintaining your fitness through performance training or other athletic activity.
New Strength Unlocks New Skills – Not the other way around. If a player has great skill (but little strength) in hitting a baseball, he may be able to hit well into the infield. But adding more ways to hit into the infield will not be as effective as building the strength to hit a home run. Can you develop strength only though skill development? Of course. But if you want to get better, faster, a good strength training program will deliver larger gains faster than more hitting practice.
Lastly, the largest issue of sports burnout is not the physical worries, but the mental ones. If your athlete is overtired and unable to keep his focus enough to maintain his grades, I would view that as a far more detrimental issue that losing the varsity position. Why? Because a sharp mind leads to success both in the classroom and on the field.
Taking a break from time to time is important. As long as you and your son have a plan to maintain his physicality, I believe he will come back to the sport better than he left it.
– Coach Grant