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The Dangers of Ignoring (& How to Overcome) Youth Athlete Burnout

The Dangers of Ignoring (& How to Overcome) Youth Athlete Burnout

07/19/2017, 5:00am PDT
By Kelvin Cech


One thing I want to clarify quickly here: I know I’m not a parent. I know sometimes the landscape between parenting and a coaching blends together, but still, I don’t know what it’s like to run a house with a bunch of complicated teenagers. 

But I do know what it’s like to watch those kids try to perform on the ice even though every fibre of their being is pulling them elsewhere. 

Is that an effective use of your money? Of their energy? Of the coaches’ time?

I’m sure we can all agree that the answer to all these questions is a resounding no. But that’s just talk. Everyone knows we need to help young athletes find balance in their lives and seek to become a better person first and an athlete second. 

But we also want to see them reach their potential. Funny thing about potential, it’s easier to reach when you’re motivated to do so. 

The other not-so-funny thing about potential is that it’s possible to push too hard and destroy it all together. Just ask Matt Clune. Matt’s older brother Rich was a professional hockey player who made stops with the Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings, and more teams in the minor leagues. 

But as Matt writes in an exclusive, heavy-hitting article for The Athletic TO, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes; circumstances that chip away at even the strongest among us. Playing in the NHL doesn’t mean you’re immune to pressure. Dealing with it your entire life can’t prepare you if your brain starts turning on you.

Again, I’m not a parent. But I know what terrifies you. Drinking. Driving. Drugs. Peer pressure. 


Ultimately we’re terrified our kids will fail. But you know what? They will fail. And you’ll be there to pick them up. 

I wrote about this subject in further detail over at The Coaches’ Site, so read that here if you’d like, but below I want to give some advice, from a coach’s perspective, to help your household avoid pressure, burnout, or worse. 

Ask Normal Questions

“How was school?”


Sound familiar? Well, these conversations matter. Even if your tight-lipped child is driving you crazy. It’s a two-way street, by the way. The last thing kids usually want to talk about after school is more school.

But that doesn’t mean deep down they’ll be happy if you don’t show an interest in their day to day life away from the rink.

On Sports: Ask, Don’t Tell

“Why did you make that decision?”

“What are you going to improve this summer?”

“What’s your favourite part about playing hockey/tennis/soccer/ultimate frisbee?”

Plenty of coaches and parents are guilty of telling their kids and players what they think instead of asking. This is backwards. They play the game, not us, so why not encourage them to tell their side of the story? This helps avoid burnout because it reminds kids that they have an outlet when pressure or stress related to sports inevitably builds up. 

Other Activities & Cutting Off

My hope with this one is that you’re getting real sick and tired about hearing every youth sports expert with any influence talk about the value of playing other sports. 

You know it’s important. I know it’s important. 

But it doesn’t have to just be another sport. I believe music is an immensely valuable tool in the development of the brain. This lady agrees with me.

And when there’s nothing else to do? 

Do nothing. Or organize something cool that accomplishes nothing. Stay away from the rink or the court. Cut your children off. 

The truth is that the turmoil experienced by Rich Clune and his family isn’t even the worst case scenario when it comes to pressure and expectations. Just ask the family of Terry Trafford, the young man who took his life following a four year career in major junior hockey

The brain is the most powerful machine in existence. But while we might be the principal operator, that doesn’t mean we don’t have help when it comes to keeping it running smooth.

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