Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Understanding Athlete Burnout: Coach Perspectives

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Understanding Athlete Burnout: Coach Perspectives

Article excerpt

Burnout is a buzzword in the athletic community that has raised considerable concern from coaches and sport psychologists. Reflecting its importance to the athletic community, burnout has been addressed in numerous articles geared toward coaches, athletes, and parents in a variety of sport magazines. Undoubtedly, the term burnout is appealing because it enables most individuals to conjure a vivid image of burnout. For example, burnout is like a candle that once glowed brightly, began to flicker, and eventually extinguished. This analogy suggests the image of bright, promising young athletes who get fed up with sport participation and stop competing at what should be the top of their career. Although burnout is often discussed in the sport community, the empirical database on athlete burnout is not well developed (Coakley, 1992; Cohn, 1990; Gould, Tuffey, Udry, & Loehr, 1996; Gould, Tuffey, Udry, & Loehr, 1997; Gould, Udry, Tuffey, & Loehr, 1996; Price & Weiss, 2000; Raedeke, 1997; Silva, 1990; Vealey, Armstro ng, Comar, & Greenleaf, 1998). Consequently, athlete burnout is an important applied issue that is not yet well understood.

At this point in knowledge development, researchers have focused greater attention on providing conceptual models describing the causes of burnout than precisely defining what athlete burnout is (and is not). Theoreticians have linked burnout to stress, overtraining, social issues, and commitment/social exchange theory variables (Coakley, 1992; Schmidt & Stein, 1991; Silva, 1990; Smith, 1986). While it is undoubtedly important to understand the causes of burnout, it is also critical to carefully characterize key signs and symptoms to adequately define burnout.

In the human services, Maslach and Jackson's (1984) definition of burnout as a "psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment that can occur among individuals who work with people in some capacity" (p. 134) helped clarify the burnout construct and served as a strong impetus for research.

A syndrome is a constellation of signs and symptoms that occur together and define a condition of significance. In early research efforts, the general aim is to identify characteristic signs and symptoms without necessarily focusing on understanding the precise nature and causes of the condition. As the knowledge base increases, refinements to the description of the syndrome occur as new evidence emerges delineating what is core and peripheral to its underlying nature. Although conceptual models and definitions of burnout have been forwarded, key signs and symptoms of athlete burnout have not been thoroughly delineated through empirical research at this point in knowledge development. Characterizing athlete burnout as a syndrome may help describe the nature of this issue.

Currently, a variety of burnout descriptions and definitions have been proffered across studies, position papers, and book chapters (Coakley, 1992; Dale & Weinberg, 1990; Gould, 1996; Smith, 1986; Weinberg, 1990). The variety of connotations associated with the term makes operationally defining athlete burnout difficult. Researchers outside of sport state that without a precise and consensual definition, the burnout concept is so broad and undifferentiated that it lacks meaning (Kahill, 1988; Maslach, 1982; Maslach & Schaufeli, 1993; Starrin, Larsson, & Styrborn, 1990). A well-developed operational definition that delineates burnout by characterizing key signs and symptoms is needed to advance our understanding of this issue.

One common definition describes burnout as a psychological, emotional, and physical withdrawal from a formerly pursued and enjoyable activity as a result of excessive stress (Smith, 1986). Although this definition is intuitively appealing and provides a heuristic understanding of athlete burnout, it is unclear how well this withdrawal-based definition differentiates athletes who withdraw from sport because of burnout versus other reasons for sport discontinuation. …

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