As a kid, I loved playing softball and basketball. When softball season came around, I was always ready to start practice and couldn’t wait to play games. But when softball ended in the fall, I parked my softball glove and cleats for the winter and basketball got my full attention. I worked on my shooting and dribbling skills with the same passion, commitment, and enthusiasm I gave to softball. As soon as the sun popped out in the spring, I was outside with my ball and glove again, begging someone to catch me.
Today, softball has become a year-round sport. Even in the Midwest, most kids playing competitive softball have been practicing since early January. Many started playing indoor tournaments in January or February and are just finishing up national tournaments in late July.
Some athletes will go directly into their high school softball season the minute summer ball is over. Then as soon as high school ball finishes, they jump back into their travel team for fall tournaments.
As the summer softball travel ball season officially ends this week, we need to give these kids a break. I’m not talking about a week off from playing games. I mean a complete don’t pick up a softball for at least 2 weeks break.
Whether your child is 9 or 18, she needs a complete break from softball. She needs a couple weeks to rest her mind and body before starting the whole process all over again in the fall.
Burnout and overuse are alive and well in youth sports because kids are not taking any time away from the game to rest physically and mentally. As adults, we need time to rest from our daily grind at work and rejuvenate our minds. We need a VACATION. We need to get away from work, not think about the daily grind and “to-do” lists we all have, relax, and do something fun that we don’t normally do every day.
Young athletes today also need a vacation -- from a sport that often consumes every spare minute they have. After 7 months of practice, games, camps, and tournaments, they need a break. They need to recover from their jam-packed adolescent schedules and rejuvenate their minds and bodies before they start all over again.
Getting young athletes to shut down completely today is a bigger battle than it was 10 years ago. Sadly, the battle is not usually with the kids. When I explain to parents of my pitching clients that we are going take a 2-3 week break from softball, most athletes look at me with a huge “thank you” in their eyes. They’re tired.
The major battle today is with parents and travel coaches who believe their athlete or team will get behind if they take a couple weeks completely off. I’ve worked with 100s of athletes over my career as an NCAA head coach, private pitching coach, and mental performance coach. As a college professor, I’ve studied burnout and overuse injuries in youth sports. Trust me, your athlete will not get behind if she takes a complete break from softball for 2 or 3 weeks.
Instead, she will come back rejuvenated and motivated. Pitchers usually come back throwing even harder and with better pitch movement after a break because their bodies are refreshed. They learn skills more quickly because they are rested and can focus better. Refreshed athletes want to practice; thus, the quality of practice sessions improves.
College coaches want athletes who take time off because 1) they know the importance of physical and mental recovery after a long season and 2) they want athletes who are healthy and motivated, not athletes who have played 200 games every year since they were 12 and are physically and mentally exhausted and run down by the time they get to college.
Missouri head coach Larissa Anderson requires incoming athletes to look at their 12-month calendar and find at least two different times where they will take 2-3 weeks off. “Your mind and body need to recover,” she explained to athletes and parents attending the MSP Night of Champions event in Kansas City.
Mapping out weeks off on the calendar ahead of time is a great strategy. Unfortunately, high school, travel ball, and private coaches don’t communicate with each other. They also often have very different goals, beliefs, and agendas regarding time off. The result is a lack of coordination and agreement about time off for athletes, which all too often ultimately results in no time off at all.
As parents and guardians, it is incumbent on us to enforce time off for our athletes. It’s our responsibility to think about our athlete's long-term health and make sure they rest and recover after a long and intense travel ball season.
Athletes - as the summer travel season concludes, take 2-3 weeks off. If you are heading directly into fall high school ball, take at least 2 weeks off when you finish. Trust me - your mind and body will thank you for it and the quality of your game will improve.