Taking a Break

Maya Moore, arguably the best women’s basketball player in the world, announced that she will be taking a year away from basketball. In an article in The Players Tribune Maya said that “my focus in 2019 will not be on professional basketball, but will instead be on the people in my family, as well as on investing my time in some ministry dreams that have been stirring in my heart for many years.”

Now Maya is a professional athlete playing at the top of her game and women basketball players usually play year-round to subsidize their incomes. Maya’s announcement got me thinking, about the way we present sports to athletes. We ask them to start young, find a focus early, and commit year round. So the question that came to mind was, “do all athletes need to take a break from their sport at some point?”

When I finished my basketball career at the University of Minnesota, I didn’t touch a ball for a year or two after I graduated.  I was anxious to pursue and do many of the things that I had missed for hoops. Eventually, I was drawn back to the sport that had become my passion and I found different ways to be around the game. 

When I talk about giving athletes time off I’m not talking about taking an entire season off like Maya is doing.  I’m talking about being aware that there is such a thing as burnout and life balance for our athletes. We take it for granted that athletes will miss family events, time spent with friends, and often they will miss out on participating in extracurricular activities. There just may be value in allowing your student-athlete to find a no sport-zone, allowing the body and mind to recuperate.

Recently I had a conversation with Natalie Darwitz former Olympian and Gopher hockey player and currently the head coach at Hamline University.  She talked about the importance of making sure her team takes breaks when she senses their stress level is high. She may create a practice that is just centered around fun to remind them why they play the game in the first place. Yes, even college athletes need to be reminded that the game is fun!

It’s hard to know how much is too much and I’m sure it is different in each sport and for each individual athlete. But the next time you are sensing changes in attitude, interest in the sport declining or lack of motivation it might be time to ask yourself the question, could they use a break?


9 Tips to Protect, Prepare and Propel Your Young Athlete

  1. Protecting our youngest athletes is the single most important component that we can do as parents, coaches and others who support athletes.  It is imperative that you ensure that those working with your kids have taken background checks.  Make sure and ask your park houses and associations what their vetting process is and make sure they are consistent with the process.
  2. Youth Sports is a huge business somewhere between 9-15 billion dollar industry.  This means people are profiting off of your athletes.  Be aware that all things be offered to your athlete are not necessary or good for them.  
  3. Overuse injuries are a huge issue for our youngest athletes.  Have someone speak to your team or association about the risks of playing all year long.  If your athlete is playing year-round make sure you watch for signs of fatigue, stress, and anxiety in yourathlete.
  4. Check in with your athlete and make sure they are having fun in their sport. Athletes play sports for many different reasons.  Some want to become professional athletes, some participate for social connections.  Let them define what their sporting experience means to them
  5. Athletes drop out of sports at a high rate; 70% will drop out by the time they are 13 years old.  If we can make the time in sport more fun and less stressful we will keep them playing longer.
  6. A great question for your coaches or association is what is our sports culture and how do you enforce it?
  7. Competence creates Confidence spend time teaching the fundamentals.
  8. Your athlete does not need to be the star athlete or even the starting athlete to receive all of the benefits associated with sports.
  9. Creating an environment where winning at all cost is not the focus is critical. For many young athletes sport isn’t just what they do, it’s who they are.  Make sure that their short time spent is sport has positive effects later in life.