Overtraining Young Athletes: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Oaklee’s guest post by Ryan Shuda, LPC, (p) CC-AASP, and Sport & Health Consultant


One of the raging debates in Sport Psychology revolves around the question of whether young athletes should specialize in one particular sport. Specialization—when an athlete picks to exclusively train for or participate in one sport—is nothing new; in fact, in a book titled Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he contends that the key to being successful is practicing a task for around 10,000 hours. It makes sense doesn’t it? For an adult, the 10,000-hour rule certainly works; if you practice a specific task or skill a lot (and have at least some natural ability), you can reasonably expect to become successful at it.


For a child or teenager, the 10,000 hour expectation may not be physically, mentally, or emotionally possible. Sports used to have a pre-season, season, post-season, and off-season. Now, sports are year round and the off-season has turned into a pre-pre-season focused on sport specific training and conditioning. This does not allow time for athletes, regardless of age, to rest, relax, and most importantly, recover from the season.

Don’t forget that children and teens are growing and the repeated movements can eventually wear out joints and cause overuse injuries. Common overuse injuries include tennis elbow, swimmer’s shoulder, runner’s knee, jumper’s knee, and most commonly, shin splints. Overuse injuries are just a small piece of a larger concern better known as burnout. Children who experience burnout or overtraining syndrome describe symptoms similar to depression. Specifically, they describe feeling tired (physically and emotionally), lacking enthusiasm and excitement about participating in a sport they once loved, and experiencing difficulty completing common training routines.


How to protect your child from overtraining syndrome and burnout:

  • Schedule a break from organized or structured sports participation. Taking a break does not mean quitting or giving up, but simply allowing your child’s body to rest and recover.
  • If possible, monitor your child’s workouts. If their training does not include games, activities, or opportunities for children to be children then they may consider the sport more of a job rather than a voluntary commitment.
  • Use sports as a tool for young athletes to learn how to pay attention to their bodily signals (e.g., pain, discomfort, and soreness).


  • Find another sport to participate in during the off-season. A second sport will help your child develop a variety of skills that can complement those needed in their sport of choice.
  • Most importantly, if your child begins to dislike or become disinterested in a sport that they once loved, talk to them about it and listen to what they have to say.


Specialization and the 10,000-hour rule are definitely necessary, at some point, for athletic success; however, I strongly believe it should not be utilized with children, particularly youth sports involvement. Youth sports are not just a platform for athletic success, but for providing positive experiences, learning opportunities, competition, interactions with peers and coaches, and most importantly to release some energy.



About Ryan Shuda

Ryan Shuda is a licensed professional counselor, and sport and health consultant provisionally certified through the applied association of sport psychology for Park Ridge Psychological Services in Park Ridge, Illinois. He obtained his BS in Health Sciences: Pre-Physical Therapy and Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and a MA in Counseling with an emphasis in Sport and Health Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology. Ryan provides individual and group support for children, adolescents, and families to feel confident throughout the pursuit of their life goals (e.g., family, relationships, academic, athletic, and overall health and well-being).