"To what extent is burnout in young athletes a psychological matter rather than a physiological issue?"

"You can always go back and cook an uncooked cookie, but you cant uncook a burnt cookie"  (David Martin)

Prevalence of burnout in young athletes over the past few decades

"Dr.Lyle Micheli, a pioneer in the field of treating youth sports injuries and director of the sports medicine division of Boston's children hospital, said that 25 years ago, only 10 percent of patients he treated came to him for injuries caused by overuse. He says now overuse injuries make up %70 of the cases he sees." (Pennington, 2005)

- In 2 studies the incident rate of over-training in young athletes was found to be %29 and 33%. In both cases a  whole third of the test subjects were over-trained or experienced burnout! (Matos,2011)(Morgan,1987)



The young athletes mostly shared common characteristics:

  • Life centered around their sport participation
  • Feeling lack of control over their own lives
  • Frequently referred to sacrifices made to achieve sport goals
  • Not seeing their athletic competence relevant to their future

Life centered around sport

                                                                                                       (The price of gold,2013)

"Some people have very narrow identities, and sport is everything to them"  (David Martin)

"Identities are claimed and constructed through social relationships experienced throughout life; therefore, if sport/training provides the sole opportunity for social interaction, it is unsurprising that the young athlete may develop a single identity. Self-esteem,identity, and self-worth become intertwined and become dependent on sporting success, which is fine when success is forthcoming but can lead to stress and anxiety when failure/injury is present, possibly contributing to the development of over-training/burnout" (Matos,2011)

  • In a statement from a 17-year old "former" figure skater:                                          I told everybody, "I skate for fun, I love the travel, the competition, the attention, the crowds." I always said, "To reach my goals I have to make sacrifices." But as I got older I saw I was missing out on a lot too. Other kids were doing things I never had time to do. I felt stifled (Coakley,1992)

The young athletes saw the sport as their life; they rarely participated in other activities, and their social life revolved around their sport environment and community. As stated above, this could become troublesome when progress in the sport is halted, or if the athlete becomes injured. Basically, their life itself has halted and that could set in feelings of depression and loneliness. This leads to their resentment for the sport and their development of a burnout; causing them to drop the sport altogether!

Feeling lack of control over own life

                                                                                                   (The price of gold, 2013)

- After young athletes made the decision of becoming high level athletes, they put in motion the dynamic of losing control over their own lives. The decisions were made by their parents or coaches. (Coakley,1992)

- Once the goals were set on becoming elite athletes, an environment was created for them so they could focus nearly all their attention on achieving that goal.

- Parents limited the amount of activities the young athletes were involved in, and persuaded them into a pattern of involvement in sport; which limited the young athletes' control over their lives. Moreover, the closer they got to achieving their goals; the less control they had. (Coakley,1992)

  • Dr.Micheal Busch: " It is not uncommon for the damage done by an overuse injury to be irrevocable, and the doctors advice is to quit the sport; to tell the truth, the kids usually take it better than the parents. MANY KIDS ARE RELIEVED, THEY CAN BE KIDS AGAIN"

Parental pressure

(1worldteam, 2010)(jdbeta1,2011)(grethusky,2012),(kiity01tasha02,2012)(gobba34,2014)

6 out of 15 young athletes in a study said: parents used guilt as a method of motivation

9 out of 15 said: they made a connection between parental support and the need to express gratitude through personal achievement

  • The study conducted by Ronald Smith indicated that young athletes' intrinsic/extrinsic* motivation was significantly related to their perception of the motivational climate created by their parents.
  • Throughout the sport season, perceptions of a high parent mastery climate predicted the highest level of autonomous regulation (relative strength of intrinsic motivation), while a perceived high ego climate predicted the lowest levels of autonomous regulation (Smith,2013)
  • The young athletes felt more guilt in not meeting their parents expectations compared to not meeting coaches expectations (Coakley,1992)
  • survey reports that over-training in young athletes are directly related to pressure of meeting or exceeding parents expectations (Mados,2011)

"Parents in virtually every sport push their children to excess in pursuit of scholarships; the volume of training has increased beyond the maturing young body's ability to handle it" (Dr.Angela Smith)

"Its not enough that they play on a school team,two travel teams, and go to four camps in the summer; they have private instructors. then their parents get them out to practice in the backyard at night"(Dr.Eric Small)

Training load, over-training, and burnout

"Over-training leads to lack of motivation; which eventually lead to burnout, and finally dropout of the sport altogether." (Mados,2011)

A study conducted by Daniel gould revealed that there was two major categories of burnout symptoms:

a) mental symptoms                               b) physical symptoms

categories or themes cited for burning out included the following:

  1. physical concerns ( being sick, unsatisfied with performance)
  2. logistical concerns ( time demands, travel concerns)
  3. social/interpersonal concerns  (dissatisfaction with social life)                                                                                                                                                                                              AND THE LARGEST GROUP
  4. psychological concerns ( unfilled expectations,parental pressure)

"Hence burnout was shown to result from both personal and situational factors, and was mostly psychological (as opposed to physical) in nature" ( Goude,1996)

  • One interesting finding was that the burnt out athletes trained about the same amount of time s the non-burnt out athletes; suggesting training load wasn't a significant contributor (Goude, 1996)                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This is also confirmed by the study done by Nuno Matos
  • 32% of young athletes in low intensity sports had experienced over-training at least once in their athletic career; this is compared to 29% in high intensity sports(Matos, 2011)

                                                                                                   (The price of gold, 2013)

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coakley, jay. 'Burnout Among Adolescent Athletes: A Personal Faliure Or Social Problem?'. sociology of sport journal (2015): n. pag. Print.

Gould, Daniel. 'Personal Motivation Gone Awry: Burnout In Competitive Athletes'. Quest 48.3 (1996): 275-289. Web.

Keegan, Richard et al. 'The Motivational Atmosphere In Youth Sport: Coach, Parent, And Peer Influences On Motivation In Specializing Sport Participants'. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology 22.1 (2010): 87-105. Web.

MATOS, NUNO F., RICHARD J. WINSLEY, and CRAIG A. WILLIAMS. 'Prevalence Of Nonfunctional Overreaching/Overtraining In Young English Athletes'. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 43.7 (2011): 1287-1294. Web.

O'Rourke, Daniel J. et al. 'Parent-Initiated Motivational Climate, Self-Esteem, And Autonomous Motivation In Young Athletes: Testing Propositions From Achievement Goal And Self-Determination Theories'. Child Development Research 2012 (2012): 1-9. Web.

Pennington, Bill. 'Doctors See A Big Rise For Injuries In Young Athletes'. new york times 2005: n. pag. Print.

Richardson, Sean O, Mark B Andersen, and Tony Morris. Overtraining Athletes. Champaign, Ill.: Human Kinetics, 2008. Print.

The Price Of Gold. sweden: persson, 2013. video.

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