Burnout: Why I Quit

Early specialization and intense competition can push athletes away

Burnout: Why I Quit

Manha Mirza, Staff Writer

I have played basketball for as long as I can remember. Whether it was going to private lessons, driving to practices half an hour away, or spending countless weekends at AAU (Amateur Athletic Union)  tournaments, basketball played a huge part in my life. 

However, for the past year or so, I began to burn out mentally and physically. I dreaded practices/games, and I felt exhausted whenever I played. I just wasn’t having fun playing anymore; it felt more and more like a chore.

Eventually, I quit the school team at the beginning of this season. 

Early Specialization

In elementary and middle school I played a multitude of sports outside of basketball, including volleyball, squash, and tennis. However, by eighth grade, I had quit all of these to focus on just basketball, falling into the trap that many other young athletes fall into: early sport specialization

Instead of focusing on a different sport every season, I was playing basketball year-round. 

At first, this was great, I was able to spend more time playing the sport I was passionate about, but over time it turned into a monotonous routine of playing the same sport season after season, with virtually no breaks.

The excitement that I used to have to play began to diminish over time as I grew tired of doing the same thing over and over again. Last year, my lack of enthusiasm for basketball got to the point where I felt more relieved than upset when I had to quarantine and miss part of my basketball season. 

70% of kids stop playing organized sports before high school simply because “it’s just not fun anymore””

— National Alliance for Youth Sports

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It turns out I’m not alone, as a poll conducted a few years ago by the National Alliance for Youth Sports found that 70% of kids stop playing organized sports before high school simply because “it’s just not fun anymore.” Although I quit basketball halfway through high school, this statistic signals a large issue within youth sports. 

Focusing too much on basketball was detrimental to me, but for someone else, it could be school, theater, another sport, etc. The key is to not limit yourself to one activity or one thing early on, as it could potentially harm you in the long run.  

Toxic Environments

Up until middle school, I had great coaches who only nurtured my love for the game. However, as I started playing more competitively, I encountered several coaches who honestly made me hate playing.

I once had a coach in the sixth grade who was  obsessed with winning. He would scream at us so frequently that he had to take a Tylenol before every game we played because apparently “yelling at us gave him a headache.” We were 12. 

Negative experiences with coaches made me dread going to practices and games, as I knew I would have to deal with them. I began to associate those experiences with playing basketball, and it began to make me hate the game itself.

Coaches are given a tremendous amount of power and influence over their athletes, and so when they do something wrong, no one wants to say anything that could put them on a coach’s bad side. Athletes and parents alike will accept it saying that their coach’s actions will help them “build character,” or “improve as a player,” when in reality it often has the opposite effect.

Losing Sight of Why You Play

When I played basketball throughout elementary school and middle school, I was playing because I enjoyed it and wanted to get better at it. However, the more competitive basketball I played, like many other players, began to lose sight of why I was playing.

I was no longer playing because I was enjoying it, but because I felt obligated to”

I was no longer playing because I was enjoying it, but because I felt obligated to. I was playing because basketball is what defined me for most of my life. I was playing because it would look good on my college application. I was playing because I wouldn’t know what to do otherwise. I was playing it for all the wrong reasons because in reality 

I was tired of playing, watching, and hearing about it. 

What Next?

After I quit playing this year, I decided to pick up squash again because it was something that I missed playing. When I started playing, I noticed that I enjoyed playing and didn’t dread going; I was actually passionate about it.

Don’t get me wrong, basketball played a huge part in my life and I had a lot of great times with it, but sometimes you just have to step away. But who knows, maybe I’ll play basketball again.