Athlete Burnout

athletic track

Athlete Burnout by Mike Stanton-Rich

This past month, as high schools and colleges kicked off their fall sports schedule, newspapers and magazines are reporting athletes calling it quits, and dropping out of sports that they perform well in. It happens every year at this time. The notable stories are the ones where an all-star quits mid-season citing that he is tired and doesn’t enjoy the grind any longer (this at age 17). The stories rarely mention the guys who quit week after week who trudge on the sidelines.

So what does athlete burnout look like?

Much like burnout in the general public, athletes experience similar psychological symptoms: sleep disturbance, lack of confidence, irritability, exhaustion, anger and hostility. Physical symptoms might include: Elevated blood pressure, unexplained weight loss, and gastrointestinal disorders.

The symptoms will build until the athlete's performance deteriorates, his/her motivation has plummeted, or until he/she quits participating altogether.

There are unique qualities about competitive athletes that make them more susceptible to burnout. First, many athletes are perfectionists and demand continued improvement from themselves and their teammates, adding to their personal stress. Second, many athletes are people-pleasers; they like to be admired and like to be noticed, and will do whatever it takes to make this happen. They often do this at the expense of their own personal needs. It is exhausting to please people day in and day out.

My earlier research discovered links between burnout and intrinsic motivation. The more intrinsically motivated an individual, the less likely they will suffer from burnout. Participating in sports for extrinsic awards and adulation rather than for the pure joy of the sport can contribute to the burnout syndrome.

Further, a key to understanding intrinsic motivation is to look at the relationship between the challenges and skills of the athlete. If the athlete's skills are greater than the challenges, boredom may arise; if the challenges are greater than the skills, anxiety may ensue. In either case, burnout is a possibility.

How do you prevent burnout in athletes? Here are several hints:

  • Emphasize intrinsic qualities of the sport- health and fitness, mental health, and personal satisfaction are great reasons for being involved in athletics.

  • Keep a balance between the challenges and skills by watching pace of instruction and improvement. Good coaching recognizes the need for skill appropriate challenge.

  • Vary experiences and workouts to avoid monotony.

  • Athletics are part of a balanced life- make sure there is a life outside of sports.

  • Provide for adequate rest and relaxation-it is a necessary antidote to the feelings of burnout.

Copright 2005 Mike Stanton-Rich is "The Leisure Guy." Armed with a Ph.D. in Leisure Studies and years studying stress and burnout, he writes regular articles and features about enhancing work and leisure. Catch his latest at:

Home | About Us | Contact Us | Site Map

top arrow
This website is © 2004-2022. All Rights Reserved.
The information included on this web service may include inaccuracies or typographical errors. I and any third party suppliers provide all content in this service "AS IS", and without any warranty of any kind.