I’m 26 years old and I experienced burnout for the first time last year, needing some time to step away from the game.
That’s a pretty good track record if you ask me seeing as the rate of drop out for girls in sport during their teens (for a variety of reasons - burnout included) is 51% by 17 years old. Got that number from the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity. There's some rad women working to inspire a healthier future for girls in sport.
I’m going to attribute my ability to stick with it for so long to a few things. First, I know that my mentality in what I want to do and be with my athletic career are far different than most. Second, I’ve had an incredible support group from my family and friends, to amazing coaches who cared about the quality of my character, not just my skill. Last, I didn’t quit volleyball during my teens because I didn’t specialize in just volleyball until I was 17.
I didn’t even start out as a volleyball player even though I started the sport fairly young. I was first a cross country runner, that was my introduction to the athletic world. I’ll forever be proud of my 6th place finish ribbon out of 100+ girls in the city. I joined soccer because that’s what my friends were doing. Then I became involved in track and dabbled in field too.
Through my last years as a high school athlete when I was solely competing in volleyball, I took up dance classes throughout the year because I loved challenging my body in different ways. (I would also rather take a dance class over any subject that had me in a classroom setting).
Once volleyball came into the picture, I knew it was my sport, because it was where I felt most competent. That helped to develop my self confidence and in turn made it easy to continue. But, I was an athlete that just wanted to play. My competitive nature kept me involved in many things, so I never overexerted myself in one sport.
Basketball helped me to develop hand eye coordination and court vision, but I'm an awful shot. Track and field enabled me to develop speed and power. I was brutal at soccer, but I managed to figure out how to use my feet and change direction quickly. And beach volleyball helped me develop my all around volleyball skills while improving my fitness.
As a committed young athlete to excellence I am so thankful that I was never forced to attend practices or competitions (though I rarely missed anything). I was never forced to attend every single summer volleyball camp or tryout. I was never forced into anything athletic for that matter. I continued because I wanted to be there, not because I felt obligated or pressured by outside influences.
Of course there was a little pressure from coaches because they wanted me involved in their programs for my development, but my mother let the decisions I made in sport be my responsibility.
I think the culture of youth sports is changing and more parents believe that their children need to specialize and do everything their sport can offer at an early age in order to remain competitive. The truth is that early involvement isn't necessarily going to be the recipe for success. I think it rarely is. But here's what we believe;
early specialization = college/university scholarship
and the ever growing concern that without early specialization we will never make it there.
I’ve had young girls ask me if starting volleyball in grade 10 is too late, concerned they would never ‘make it’ based on the amount of experience they had compared to other girls. Then I’ve had parents reach out looking for insight on what they need to do for their children to reach the next level. I've seen parents overexert their children, and push them away from sport. And I have had others ask for my opinion on how much volleyball is needed in order to make the jump to the University or College level.
We are so focused on this end goal we forget that sport is about play, not about all of the reps and we take the joy out of the game.
Though there are many factors for longevity in an athletic career and transitioning from high school, to University, or even professional, I will always believe that it’s never wrong to specialize late, and it’s never too late to try. Skills can be developed in a differing range of time periods, and specialization is not the magic recipe for success. There is no one path to take to make it to the next level as an athlete, but what I do know is that the path of specialization and overexertion can lead to burnout.
Give yourself, or your kids the opportunity to grow at their own rate without the pressure of committing to one sport so young. There is pride in becoming an athlete for life, not just a volleyball player for a short time.
I became burnt out because I played 3 full year seasons with minimal time off after 5 University seasons. I burnt out because as volleyball became my job it began to feel like one. And though I became burnt out last year I'm glad this never happened to me during my youth from specializing and overtraining too early.
Who knows where I would be now.
Whatever your goals are for yourself, your athletes, or your children I ask that you have one rule;
Let the kids play.