Preventing Burnout - Page 4
Performance Climate Versus Mastery Climate
In addition to goal characteristics (task vs. ego), motivational climate may have a strong impact on the possibility of burnout. Two key motivational climates have been identified by sport psychologists: a performance climate and a mastery climate. When a runner’s day-to-day life is characterized by a significant focus on interrunner competitions, comparisons with other runners, the presence of a coach who emphasizes winning at all costs, and public recognition of comparative ability, then a performance climate is said to prevail. Performance climates are believed to foster ego involvement and the setting of ego goals rather than the establishment of task goals perhaps because the underlying schema is “I can only be good if I am better than you,” rather than “I’m good if I make steady progress with my performance times.” A significant number of sport psychologists believe that performance climates can increase the risk of burnout compared with mastery climates.
A mastery climate prevails in a runner’s life when an emphasis is placed on the learning and mastery of skills (e.g., when a runner learns to carry out running-specific strength training, when a runner develops the ability to maintain stride rate on tough hills), effort is valued as an end in itself rather than as a way of establishing self-worth, and there is a private, personal recognition of effort rather than a public comparison with other runners. The presence of a mastery climate increases the likelihood that a runner will be task-involved rather than ego-involved in his or her training and competitions because the pursuits and practices of other runners are irrelevant to whether the runner can master a specific running task.
One last motivational factor—in addition to goal orientation and motivational climate—that can have a large impact on running performance is the character trait of perfectionism. Some studies have suggested that perfectionism is a key characteristic displayed by high-achieving athletes. This seems reasonable enough since perfectionism is often linked with an intense pursuit of extremely high performance standards, a pursuit that can lead to outstanding competitive outcomes.
However, a key problem is that perfection is unattainable. The perfect race is unachievable, and in fact a perfect race may be especially unachievable to a perfectionist runner, who is likely to be predisposed to picking apart his or her performance even when it is outstanding. Thus, perfectionism may in fact leave an athlete constantly vulnerable to failure, which can then lead to psychological distress and—ultimately—to an impairment of athletic ability. Various lines of research suggest that when perfectionist athletes inevitably fail to live up to their extremely lofty performance expectations, shame, anger, and anxiety may result, and the risk of burnout can be increased. In addition, there is evidence that perfectionist runners tend to set very lofty task and ego goals simultaneously, in effect giving themselves too much to do and achieve. They eventually become overburdened with all of the goals that must be met—after all, they have to be perfect.