Preventing Burnout - Page 2
Sports psychologists have begun to explore the overall background psychological characteristics that permit some runners to excel while others fail. This research reveals that the very factors that help some endurance athletes persevere through challenging workouts, rugged training, and competitive conditions may also increase the risk of burnout. Researchers from the Norwegian School of Sport Science in Oslo and the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom have been able to show, in a study carried out with 141 high-performing athletes, that specific motivational profiles may produce early successes in athletic endeavors but may ultimately raise the likelihood of frustration, poor competitive performances, and even withdrawal from sport. In effect, the desire to achieve great things may eventually lead to very poor training responses and competitions that are less than optimal if the underlying psychological mechanisms and motivational constructs are faulty.
Exercise scientists have defined burnout as a state of mental, emotional, and physical fatigue produced during the pursuit of challenging goals. Burnout is usually characterized by disillusionment with one’s sporting activity and by the appearance of psychological and physical symptoms associated with reduced self-esteem. True burnout is thought to be accompanied by three key indicators:
1. Lack of emotional and physical energy
2. Reduced sense of accomplishment and a feeling that desired goals are very unlikely to be attained
3. Devaluation of one’s sport and a decreased interest in performing at a high level
The possible mechanisms by which burnout appears in athletes have been hotly debated. In a benchmark study of burnout, researchers proposed that athletes with high initial levels of motivation tend to make significant investments in training; these investments then lead to early competitive success and thus intense enjoyment, which in turn produce further commitments in training. A key factor involved in this process for many athletes appears to be that successes enhance feelings of self-worth. While this would appear to be a healthy response, it can lead to a situation in which self-esteem gradually becomes more and more dependent on athletic success. Consequently, the inevitable athletic disappointments and failures that occur as competition becomes more rigorous produce threats to self-worth, which can lead to a motivational shift in which an intense desire to train hard and to succeed begins to wane and is replaced by a kind of protective physical and psychological disengagement from the sport.
This groundbreaking research suggests that when an athlete takes a view of athletic achievement that fails to protect him or her from the psychological stresses associated with sustained difficulties and unavoidable failures to reach important goals, it is almost inevitable that some degree of burnout will occur. The resulting psychological, emotional, and behavioral withdrawals make the ultimate attainment of goals more unlikely.