Evidence for a Curvilinear Relationship between Burnout and Years of Coaching Experience


The purpose of this study was to determine if the relationship between burnout, as measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), and years of coaching experience was curvilinear for male high school coaches. Hierarchical regression found a significant quadratic component for the MBI subscales of Emotional Exhaustion (p<.05) and Depersonalization (p<.05). No significant linear or quadratic relationships were found for the Personal Accomplishment subscale. These results suggest that two categories of burnout as measured by the MBI (Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization) do not increase in a linear fashion with coaching experience rather a curvilinear shape was found. Male high school coaches with fewer years of experience suffered more emotional exhaustion and depersonalization than those with more years of experience.


Burnout has been studied across a variety of occupations including sport coaching. A commonly used operational definition of the construct of burnout is supplied by Maslach and colleagues (5)(11)(12)(13). They have identified the major components of burnout as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and personal accomplishment. Further, their work has provided not only a more fully developed conceptual framework of burnout, but a psychometrically sound instrument for the measurement of burnout, the Maslach Burnout Inventory(MBI).


In order to avoid burnout in sport coaches it is important to determine which factors are associated with this undesirable phenomenon. Investigator shave studied numerous variables (e.g. gender, age, type sport, marital status, etc.) in order to determine if an association with burnout exists. Onedemographic variable which has been studied is years of coaching experience. Results of studies investigating the relationship between years of coaching and burnout have been equivocal. Investigations have found either no association or a significant, but low negative association between burnout and experience (1)(2)(8)(15). Several studies have found less experienced coaches, both male and female, to have higher perceived burnout than coaches with more experience (1)(4)(8)(10). Drake and Herbert (3) found, in a qualitative study of burnout among collegiate coaches, that the level of stress and burnout were high during early years of coaching, then, decreased with experience. These findings parallel those of Kelley and Gill (8) who found higher levels of burnout in less experienced collegiate coaches. To date, studies have only tested for linear associations between coaching experience and burnout. It is conceivable that experience is related to burnout in a curvilinear way. It may be that in the early stages of coaching burnout is high, but decreases or levels off with experience influencing the linear association. A larger amount of variation might be accounted for in the quadratic component of the regression of burnout on years of coaching experience. This study investigated the relationship of years of coaching experience and burnout, as measured by the three MBI subscales, and whether this relationship is curvilinear.



The sample consisted of 205 male head varsity high school coaches from two states in the Southeastern United States who voluntarily completed the subscales and demographic information. The mean age of the participants was 42.9±9.76 with a range of 23 to 68 years. The number of years as a head varsity high school coach ranged from 1 to 37 years with a mean of 10.92±8.52 years. Each respondent was informed of the purpose and requirements of the study according to institutional guidelines and implied consent by completing the survey.


The MBI Form Ed (14) developed for educators was used to measure burnout. The MBI is the most widely used instrument in the study of burnout for serving professions (12, 13). The MBI uses a liker t-type scale to measure the frequency of experienced feelings on the subscales of Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization, and Personal Accomplishment. Scores range from 0 (never) to 6 (everyday). The 9-item Emotional Exhaustion (EE) scale measures a person’s feeling of being emotionally exhausted by the work of their profession. The Depersonalization (DP) scale is a 5-item scale measuring the frequency of feelings of uncaring and impersonal attitudes toward those being served. The Personal Accomplishment scale (PA) is an 8-item scale describing feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction with ones job. In contrast to the EE and DP subscales, lower scores on the PA subscale correspond to higher degrees of burnout. The scores on each subscale are considered separately and are not combined into a single aggregate score. Validity and reliability of the instrument have been documented (12)(13). Permission to use the instrument was obtained from the publisher, Consulting Psychologist Press.

Statistical Analysis

The IBM PASW statistical Package (Version 18.0) was used for analyses. Linear and quadratic relations between Years of Experience and the three MBI subscales were each tested separately. Years of Experience scores were firs tmean centered and then squared to create the quadratic term. Using hierarchical regressions, the three MBI subscale scores were separately regressed onto the linear centered Years of Experience in step 1, in step 2 the quadratic centered Years of Experience was sequentially added (16). Alpha for all analyses was setat p<.05. Means and Standard Deviations are in Table 1.

Table 1

Means and Standard Deviations for the three MBI subscales

Subscale M (SD)
Emotional Exhaustion 21.55 11.94
Depersonalization 7.59 6.01
Personal Accomplishment 37.31 6.96


Sequential hierarchical regression examined whether the quadratic component of the relation between Years of Experience and Burnout explains more variance over and above the linear effect as measured by significance of R square change (7). For the EE subscale, when Years of Experience was regressed onto the EE subscale during step 1, there was a significant amount of variance explained, F(1,203)=7.266, p=.007, adjusted R2=.024. However,as indicated by the R2, only 2.4% of the variance in Emotional Exhaustion was explained by Years of Experience. When the Quadratic component for Years of Experience was added into the equation in step 2, there was a significant increase in the variance explained by the regression, R2change=.014, F change= F(1,203)=3.776, p=.053 and the linear Years of Experience was no longer significant, B=.190,t=.984, p=.326, with a significant quadratic component,B=-.374, t=-1.943, p=.053. The positive coefficient for the linear effect and negative coefficient for the quadratic effect suggests a gradually flattening convex shape of the curve (7). For the DP, when Years of Experience was regressed onto the DP subscale in step 1 there was significance, F(1,203)=7.858, p=.005, adjusted R2=.026 explaining 2.6% of the variance. When the quadratic component for Years of Experience was entered during step 2, there was a significant increase in the variance explained, R2 change=.018, F change=F(1.203)=4.795, p=.029 and, as with EE, the linear effect of Years of Experience from step 1 was no longer significantB=.227, t=1.18, p=.238 while the quadratic component entered on step 2 was significant, B=-.421, t=-2.190,p=.029. These results also suggest a convex curvilinear function. For PA, no significant regression coefficients were found for the linear effect entered on step 1, F(1,203)=1.031, p=.311 or the quadratic component entered on step 2, F change=F(1,203)=.202, p=.654. This result infers no relationship between feelings of Personal accomplishment,as measured by the MBI, and how many years someone has been coaching.


Coaching is considered by many to be a stressful occupation. Burnout is a result of constant stressors over prolonged periods of time (9). In order to avoid burnout, it is necessary to identify the stressors that most influence the phenomenon. Once identified, appropriate measures can be taken in order to alleviate the problem. One demographic variable that has been studied is the relationship between the years someone has been coaching and the degree of burnout. Results of studies that have used coaching experience as a variable to explain burnout have found conflicting results. We postulate that one of the reasons for contradictory findings is the possibility of a curvilinear relationship between burnout and years of coaching experience. Our results partially support the hypothesis that the relationship between burnout, as measured by the three MBI scales, and coaching experience is curvilinear. Significant quadratic components were found for Emotional Exhaustion, and Depersonalization, but no significant findings were found for Personal Accomplishment. The significant findings do support the notion put forth by several authors (4)(8)(10) that burnout is more prevalent in less experienced coaches compared to more experienced coaches at least as far as Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization are concerned. Our findings are also consistent with the findings of Caccese and Mayerberg (1) and Kelly and Gill(8) who found that the pattern of means across age and experience levels does not clearly suggest a linear increase in burnout as a function of time. However, one limitation of this study is that posed by Weinberg and Gould (17). It may be that coaches who experienced high levels of stress are no longer coaching with only those who possess adequate coping skills remaining in the profession and available for investigation. Future investigations may want to include former coaches who are still teaching but left the coaching profession.


These results suggest that two categories of burnout as measured by the Maslach Burnout Inventory (Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization) do not increase in a linear fashion with experience. After early increases in Emotional Exhaustion and Depersonalization scores, a point is reached where the scores tend to decrease or level off as Years of Experience continues to increase. No association was found for Personal Accomplishment. These results are interpreted to mean less experienced high school coaches have more emotional exhaustion and depersonalization than more experienced coaches.

Application in Sport

The results underline a significant curvilinear function between years of experience and level of burnout experienced by male high school varsity coaches. High school administrative personnel (e.g. principals, athletic directors, superintendents) may consider implementing mentoring programs for inexperienced coaches that address topics such as job responsibilities, administrative tasks (e.g. fundraising, scheduling, contest contracts, etc.)and stress management. Research on burnout in coaching has identified three major areas of stressors. One, demographic variables (e.g., gender, marital status, age, etc.), two, support variables (e.g., administrative support, work overload, role clarification, etc.) and three, personal variables (e.g.,leadership styles, trait anxiety, etc.) (9)(16). Preventative measures that address coping with these types of stressors may help reduce the level of burnout experienced by male varsity high school coaches. Burnout has a number of consequences that negatively influence not only the coach, but the athletes also. Future studies may want to investigate the influence of variables such as gender, coaching status, and personality traits on this curvilinear function.


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