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What You Need To Know About Burnout

What You Need to Know About Burnout

In our last blog we discussed how maladaptive perfectionism can breed burnout; however, perfectionists aren’t the only ones who may be prone to burnout and, at worst, burnout can cause athletes to quit their sport before they reach where they dreamt of going (Feigley, 2016). Currently, it’s hard to put a number on the percentage of athletes who have experienced burnout. This is because many athletes experience some fluctuating symptoms (i.e. stress and exhaustion) but not actual burnout. Another reason is that athletes don't always recognize all the symptoms of burnout and underreport, making self-reporting complicated. In 1990, 47% of student-athletes surveyed from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) reported being burned out during some point in their athletic career and another 72% experienced some symptoms of burnout (Silva, 1990). More current research reveals a trend that athletes do indeed report more burnout as they increase in age and difficulty (e.g. from rec. league vs. elite) (Vealey & Chase, 2016).

What is burnout?

In the context of sport, Inside Rival uses the following characteristics, adapted by Raedeke & Smith (2001) to define burnout:

  1. Emotional & Physical Exhaustion

  2. Sport Devaluation

  3. Low Sense of Accomplishment

Signs & Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Feeling tired and drained most the time as if you can’t recharge

  • Loss of energy and vigor, loss of interest, and mood changes (heightened anxiety, stress, restlessness, irritability, anger).

2. Frequent headaches or muscle aches

3. Change in appetite or sleep habits

4. Frequent illnesses

  • More susceptible to colds, the flu and others due to lowered immune system).

5. Increasingly negative outlook; increase in irritability

  • Lack of perceived control.

6. Withdrawing from responsibilities

7. Isolating yourself from others

8. Detachment; “what’s the point?”

  • Depersonalization and devaluation takes the form of athletes not caring about what was once important to them. Apathy and low motivation.

9. Procrastinating or taking longer to get things done; overwhelmed by small tasks

  • Concentration loss or problems.

10. Skipping workouts/practice or constantly running late

11. Decreased sense of accomplishment and/or decreased performance level

  • Low self-esteem or depression, and low productivity level.

Compiled from Hackney et al., 1990; Kraft, 2006; De Francisco et al., 2016.

Although there are common factors among athletes who burnout, burnout is actually a very personal experience that will vary from person to person (Sitzler, 2016).

Factors that lead to burnout in athletes (Vealey & Chase, 2016):

  1. Overload Factors: demands that exceed an athlete’s ability to mentally or physically cope (i.e. overtraining).

  2. Social Factors: Pressure from parents, negative coaching behaviors, obligated to participate, lack of personal control (more prevalent in youth sports).

  3. Personality Factors: trait anxiety, unhelpful coping mechanisms, maladaptive perfectionism, obsessive passion, under developed non-athletic identity.

Raedeke & Smith (2001) found significant relationships between burnout, the amount of stress athletes feel, and their social support and coping. The biggest factor, accounting for more that 50% of the reasons given for burnout, is psychological concern (Weinberg & Gould, 2019). This includes unfulfilled or mismatched expectations around:

  • Rankings

  • Realization a professional career was unlikely

  • Feeling lack of improvement or talent

Other themes included, “[...] lack of enjoyment, coach or parental pressure to win, self-pressure to win and play well, uncertainty of parental support, and growing ‘sick’ of their sport and lacking motivation” (Weinberg & Gould, 2019).

What To Do: Featuring the 3 R’s (Kellmann, 2002)

  • Recognize - Watch for the warning signs

  • Reverse - Undo damage by seeking support and managing stress

  • Resilience - Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health

The 3 R's: As an Athlete

It's more than self-care.

The 3 R's: As a Parent

The 3 R's: As a Coach

Burnout is an outcome of an interaction between burnout producing environmental factors and individually characteristics and is thus a shared responsibility between player and coach. Before season starts you can assess your environment for future threats to burnout in your athletes. Take a look at the athletic schedule, the academic calendar (if it applies), and regularly take the "temperature" of your athletes to recognize when they're off baseline. Based on the research on burnout, assessing and responding to environmental contributions to burnout is the most effective way to reduce and eliminate burnout in individual athletes.


  1. Feigley, D. A. (2016). Psychological burnout in high-level athletes. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 12(10).

  2. Silva, J. M. (1990). An analysis of the training stress syndrome in competitive athletics. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2, 5-20.

  3. Vealey, R., & Chase, M. (2016). Best Practice For Youth Sport. Human Kinetics.

  4. Raedeke, T. D., & Smith, A. L. (2001). Development and Preliminary Validation of an Athlete Burnout Measure. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 23.

  5. Hackney, A. C., Pearman, S. N., & Nowacki, J. M. (1990). Physiological profiles of overtrained and stale athletes: A review. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2(1).

  6. Kraft, U. (2006). Burned Out. Scientific American Mind. Retrieved from

  7. De Francisco, C., Arce, C., del Pilar Víchez, M., & Vales, A. (2016) Antecedents and consequences of burnout in athletes: Perceived stress and depression. International Journal of Clinical Health Psychology, 16(3).

  8. Sitzler, B. (2016). Burnout in Athletes. Bulletin in the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. Retrieved from

  9. Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2019). Burnout and Overtraining. In, Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology (7th ed.) (pp. 520-539). Human Kinetics.

  10. Kellman, M. (2002). Enhancing recovery: Preventing underperformance in athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


If you’re interested in preventing burnout, developing a ‘go getter’ mindset that pushes you yet remains balanced, join the waitlist today.


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