Athlete burnout a good thing?

Proof of athlete burnout litters the sports landscape, especially in gymnastics, figure skating, swimming, tennis, and hockey, where young boys and girls are groomed to be at their peaks at a very young age.
One of the biggest differences between youth participation today and the recreational days of yesteryear is the disturbing trend toward specialization. Younger and younger, kids are placed in one sport and are told to focus all their efforts on it 12 months of the year.
Clearly, parents are making narrowly-focused decisions for their children with long-term career goals in mind—maybe in an attempt to emulate a sports figure or on the recommendations of a coach.
You can blame some of this trend on Tiger Woods or tennis’ darling sisters, Serena and Venus Williams. Tiger’s father drilled him on golf fundamentals at an early age and he became a scratch player by age 11 while the Williams sisters were on the pro scene as early as age 14.
But for every three who become success stories, there are thousands more who don’t. Subjecting young athletes to tournament pressure and around-the-clock practices at early ages often backfires, leading to the early retirements of young athletes before they ever reach their full potential.
To help prevent this type of burnout, encouraging the athlete to become well-rounded in a variety of activities, rather than in one particular sport, should be encouraged.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness recommends limiting one sporting activity to a maximum of five days per week, with at least one day off from any organized physical activity. In addition, athletes should have at least two-three months off per year from their particular sport during which they can let injuries heal and refresh the mind.
You could argue that some aggressive parents, coaches, and officials are taking sports that can be played throughout a child’s lifetime and ruining it for them—eventually burning out thousands of athletes far too young.
But a different kind of burnout, one that tends to enlighten a professional athlete at a later age to the world around them, normally is a positive step. Maybe it’s just about being smart enough to realize there’s more to life than their singular existence of scoring goals or dreaming of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Take Tiger, for example. How else do you explain the fiancée, the kids, the charity work, and so on? Burnout on the professional athlete scene converts to awakening and maturation.
Taking a step back refreshed his career, and he’s as dominating as ever (minus his recent time off with a knee injury). The Williams’ sisters have taken time away from the game they love to focus on other things, and have come back rejuvenated and motivated again. There are some kids who are so focused at a young age that they want to spend every waking moment working on the sport they love. And that’s fine. But even these athletes come to a realization eventually.
Sydney Crosby spent hours firing pucks in his parent’s basement, and no doubt wouldn’t be the player he is today without that unwavering dedication to the sport he lives and breathes.
But there will come a time when he reflects on life (maybe a few more years down the road, when he actually can grow a playoff beard) and realizes there’s more things to experience than what is contained within that 80’x200’ sheet of frozen ice.
And that, you must admit, is a good thing.

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