Keeping the fairness in sport and avoiding athletic burnout

Jack Perconte

I have often received questions that have to do with fairness in sport like the following:

“My husband coaches a 10-year-old travel team and has a player who, after being chosen for my husband’s team, made a travel team in another sport that is played the same time of year. Apparently, the player will only make 1 out of the 3 practices each week and will miss at least 2 games. Should the 9-year-old still be able to play in the games and how often? What is the best way to handle this situation?”

I have seen this situation numerous times over the years when attempting to schedule lessons over the phone with parents for their kids. “No, Monday won’t work because of soccer practice, Tuesday is bad with swimming lessons, Wednesday he has a baseball game, and Thursday he has basketball camp, piano and…” “Enough, forget baseball lessons, let him stay home and play with friends,” was how I wanted to respond, as I was shaking my head.

The Road to Burnout

This is clearly a case of what I call over-sporting. It is a situation where kids and parents are running all over the place to make games, practices and other kid activities, leaving little time for kids to just chill and hang with friends away from sports. Over-sporting often leads to burnout in kids and families. Trying to do too much in the same season of the year often leaves everyone involved with frazzled nerves and exhausted kids. This type situation can be detrimental to kid’s physical and mental health and leads to the aforementioned kid-activity burnout. I have often seen overburdened kids reach the high school level and reject playing sports any further, as well as having a difficult time making friends because they were on the go so much that they didn’t have time to socialize when young.

It is important to remember that the commitment level for travel programs is different from recreational leagues. Many situations like this are preventable in youth sports when coaches have a set policy before team tryouts about this situation and any other possible fairness scenarios that may occur. Coaches and leagues that develop a team and coaching philosophy statement before tryouts for all to see about playing time, position play, games and practice attendance can avoid many negative, youth sport experiences.

Most importantly, parents should be very careful of falling into the “go, go, go,” mode with kids. Kids, like everyone, need a sufficient amount of downtime to hang with family and friends. I believe that kids should never play more than one sport in the same season when the seasons overlap for more than a couple of weeks, especially when it involves the more demanding travel programs. When kids enjoy more than one sport played in the same season, they should choose one with the option of choosing the other one in future seasons. In addition, there may be an available option of keeping up in the other non-chosen sport with camps and offseason programs at a time when kids are not busy with other activities.

As for the dilemma posed in the initial question, it should be a group decision where team parents discuss the situation. Once a consensus is arrived at, as to any restrictions on playing time, coaches should meet with the parents of the boy to discuss their reasoning and any consequences. Of course, not all parents are of the reasonable sort and this consensus may lead to further turmoil. It is always unfortunate when these type situations affect the young players and the team so parents should take every precaution to keep all parental discussions from the kids. Kids are not totally naive though, so an explanation of any consequences to the team may be necessary.