Unfortunately, workaholism is a term that’s no longer reserved for adults, and our experts are finding that young athletes and student-athletes can easily fall into this trap too. Workaholic tendencies are often praised as hustle, grit, or enthusiasm, but over time, these tendencies can lead to physical and mental health problems.
Here, TrueSport Expert Nadia Kyba, MSW, President of Now What Facilitation, explains how coaches and caregivers can work together to prevent a workaholic culture from infecting youth sports.
Understand the pressure athletes face on all fronts
As parents, coaches, and caregivers, it’s easy to look at young athletes and feel as though they live an unburdened existence. But between school, sports, work, relationships, friendships, and the growing pressures presented by social media, young people are subject to huge amounts of pressure, says Kyba. To you, as an adult with bills to pay and many demands on your time, it may not seem like your athlete should be struggling to do it all. However, your athlete doesn’t have the same experiences as you, and for them, this point in time is the busiest and most pressured they’ve ever been.
Stop promoting a ’no pain, no gain’ mentality
Hard work is good—but it’s easy for hard work to turn into overwork. Unfortunately, as adults, we tend to either ignore athletes who are overworking, or worse, we praise their efforts, says Kyba. Rather than praising an athlete for showing up to practice despite pulling an all-nighter to study for a final exam after a late shift at the restaurant where they work, consider giving that athlete a pass to catch up on sleep. We live in a culture that touts the idea of “going above and beyond,” but an athlete who’s already at risk of injury or illness due to fatigue shouldn’t be pushing harder, they should be taking care of their physical health.
Understand how workaholism applies to youth sports
While you can’t control the amount of homework or after-school work an athlete has, you can control the environment you’re creating for them in terms of sports. Kyba has noticed two big issues on this front. One issue is the number of tournaments now taking place over holidays, on weekends, and throughout the summer. There’s also a growing pressure for young athletes to be in a single sport all the time. That leaves no time for multi-sport play, other school activities, and of course, even unstructured time with friends.