Avoiding Burnout

This blog is based on the article entitled “Perfectionism and Junior Athlete Burnout: The Mediating Role of Autonomous and Controlled Motivation” by Jowett, Hill, Hall, and Curran.

Everyone has different things that cause them to feel passionate. Teachers feel passionate about reaching that struggling student. Song writers feel passionate about creating a song that is worded perfectly and resonates with others. Parents feel passionate about raising their children the right way. Athletes feel passionate about winning championships. LeBron James’ performance against the Pacers is a good example of passion.
He hit the game winner in game one.

He scored 16 points in the 3rd quarter in game five to carry his team to a win.

More importantly, he is proving that his ability coupled with his passion can carry a team. He has two superstars for teammates in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. However they are struggling and James took it upon himself to bear the responsibility of the current success of the Miami Heat. Passion can elevate performance to its highest point.

But what happens when that all-consuming desire fades and does not return? Burnout sets in. Burnout is different from a momentary decline in motivation. Burnout is when you reach that point when you want give up. Here are some of the common symptoms of burnout:
1. Decreased perception of accomplishment
2. Perceived emotional and physical exhaustion
3. Devaluation and reduction of participation
4. Psychological, emotional, and physical withdrawal
5. Burnout often brings about feelings of depression and anxiety

Perfectionism plays a vital role in the onset of burnout. Perfectionism typically involves two parts.
1. Striving for exceedingly high standards
2. Harsh self-criticism

The research shows that burnout is more likely when certain aspects of perfectionism are present. Below are those aspects of perfectionism followed possible corresponding thoughts in quotes.

1. Placing irrational importance on goals: “I have to score four goals today or I’ll get cut
2. Preoccupation with mistakes: “I suck because I let in one goal this half” (Repeat this self- statement over and over again)
3. Chronic doubt about inadequacies: “I’m no good, I’m too slow, I’m not skillful enough, I’m not fit…”
4. The necessity for precision and order: “I need to make sure every touch on the ball is perfect”

What can be done to avoid burnout? The first and most important step is to become more aware of the thoughts and feelings that contribute to both increased and decreased motivation. A lot of these thoughts happen automatically and out of one’s awareness because they are habitual. Once this awareness is established you can determine whether the thoughts are realistic and whether they are causing you to feel more or less motivated. For example, thoughts of how others view us is a key factor in motivation. When we think others see us in a positive light, our motivation goes up. Whereas, when we think others see us unfavorably, our motivation plummets. The point is, how we think other people are thinking about us plays a vital role in our motivation to perform.

For those of you with children who are athletes, artists, musicians, and students, please keep in mind that the pressure you put on them can be overwhelming. The research shows that a child’s perceived parental pressure is often greater than the actual pressure. So when a parent thinks they are putting a little pressure on their child, then child probably thinks the pressure is greater. In the end, children who are kicking a ball, picking up a trumpet, or molding clay are more likely to be highly motivated and less likely to experience burnout when the pressure is manageable and not overwhelming.

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