12-Year-Old Burnout
By Wes Simmons

According to the National Alliance for Sports, a whopping 70 percent of kids who play competitive sports quit by age 13 due to burnout. As an 80’s and 90’s kid who LOVED sports, the idea of burning out at age 12 seems unfathomable to me. Things have changed. As a coaching community, we need to change too so we can meet the needs of a new generation.

Check out this short video of my colleague Mark Hull where he shares some ideas about why we feel it is now essential to coach the heart of your athletes in the 21st century.

When kids enter into an environment where they are cared for, they are much less likely to quit for the wrong reasons. Sure, some natural attrition will take place as young people grow and discover other things they are more passionate about. However, as we train up a new generation of coaches to be more 3Dimensional in their approach, our sincere hope is that this phenomenon called “12-year-old burnout” will soon be regarded as an anomaly of the past.

4 thoughts on “12-Year-Old Burnout”

  1. I think we are over generalizing in defining “12 year old burnout”. Kids at this age are changing rapidly, and part of that precludes that they will become more interested in some things and less interested in others. More over, parents are more likely to allow kids at this age to choose for themselves the activities in which they participate. It is doubtful that “burnout” applies more to sports than it does to piano lessons or cub scouts.
    That doesn’t mean that coaching isn’t important. The effect of quality coaching continues long after the athlete” walks away” from the game. You can see this in that good coaches(and even not so good) are almost universally greeted as “Coach” by their former athletes, regardless of how long ago she coached them. Many are called coach even by people they NEVER COACHED. This is an honor bestowed solely out of personal appreciation. Only the ordained are saluted as “Reverend”, and only the educated are called “Doctor”. But “Coach” comes from the heart.
    I began coaching in 1978. I can’t say that today’s athletes are fundamentally different today than “way back when”(which is getting harder to remember). The culture has changed significantly, however. You now have people who earn their living by scouting for athletes, developing athletes, and running tournaments. This is a result of socioeconomic changes that only “4D” coaching could reverse. Please encourage all those coaches who still coach because they love sports and kids to keep fighting the good fight. It is worth it.

  2. You’re exactly right Steve. Both of these situations lead to kids quiting/giving up on sports and there are several reasons for each, but one of the main culprits is the “youth sports financial monster” and the growth of “club/travel” sports. In school sports there are unfortunately only so many spots to be filled and a lot of kids get left out that would enjoy and benefit in many ways. We used to have rec leagues and intramural leagues that would give many more opportunities, but that has given way to “club & travel” leagues. Why? Follow the money. It’s a $55 billion/year industry. In the pursuit of getting the “elite” athletes (and their money) and parents who believe they are putting their kids on the path to a D1 scholarship, all parties- coaches, club administrators & parents- are both putting kids on the path to either burnout or derailing opportunities altogether for many kids who would love to play but aren’t able because, at the age of 8 or 9, they’re not good enough, or their parents don’t have the finances to get them private coaching.
    There are many symptomatic reasons, but at the core is money and winning. I believe school based sports is becoming less and less responsible as college recruiters are more and more recruiting out of the clubs not the schools and many have recognized this and are benefiting from it in huge ways. We need to redeem the sports culture and realign our goals for sports and how it can (it’s usually not) be used as a great tool to teach & influence young people in positive ways. It takes intentionality on part of the parent and coach, otherwise sport will do more damage than good. Part of what I love about coaching at a small Christian school is that I’m often coaching kids who wouldn’t have an opportunity elsewhere and seeing them grow in so many ways through their 4 year experience.

  3. With all due respect, I don’t think “12-year-old burnout” is really the best descriptor. I think that’s more of a subset of the problem. Absolutely, there are kids leaving sports due to burnout – kids who’ve played too much, been coached too hard, etc. I think those kids tend to be the stronger players – so their absence is much likely to go unnoticed. Certainly it’s not good to lose them either, but I’d wager that in most cases, coaches & parents make a significant effort to keep them playing & they choose not to.

    But that’s not where the bulk of that 70% is coming from. Most of those departures are kids who are cut, pushed out…made to feel unwelcome. They’re kids who believe they’re not good enough so they shouldn’t play any more. Kids who lack the self-confidence to participate in a tryout for fear of rejection – when in fact, they are good enough to deserve to play. Those kids not only aren’t actively recruited to stay, it’s “good riddance.” Coaches do their little mental math of “at varsity, we only need 4 or 5 per class” bit and are happy to see a bit of weeding out take place.

    To be brutally honest, as much as parents get a bad rap (and often deserve it) for putting too much importance on winning trophies for 8 or 10 year olds, that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as varsity coaches who look to cut young kids out early so a select few can get more time & attention. The ignorance & arrogance of anyone thinking they can identify & project talent that well from young kids should be self-evident. Unfortunately it’s not.

    Awhile back, 3DCoaches tweeted out one of the most impactful messages I’ve read & something that should be a centerpiece for youth sports organizations everywhere:

    “Before you weed that kid out because “you don’t need him/her,” at least pause long enough to ask, “Yes, but does he/she need us?”
    https://twitter.com/3DCoaches/status/981207496047153152

    • Steve,
      I also fully agree with your statement. The intro to the video would better be stated that “one of the reasons kids are quitting is because of what we’ve commonly come to call 12-year-old burnout.” Kids quit for a multitude of reasons, some of the reasons are natural consequences of having to choose what they want to excel at. However we do need to identify those reasons that are harmful. You have identified some of those other reasons. I don’t want to lose the reality of “burnout” by mistakenly labeling it “the” reason. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Thanks for being someone in the trenches making a difference!

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