Athlete Burnout: Is the Type of Sport a Factor?

Submitted by  Shelley L. Holden, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL; Christopher M. Keshock, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL; Brooke E. Forester University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL; Steven F. Pugh, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL and Steven F. Pugh, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL.


Athletes sometimes become disenchanted with sport participation and stop competing at what might have been the pinnacle of their sport careers.  Prior research has determined that athletes are likely to burnout if they are participating in sport for reasons other than sport attraction. However, prior research has not studied female athletes’ comparative levels of burnout among various sports.  The purpose of this study was to determine the level of burnout in female collegiate athletes based on their sport of choice. Participants were 108 female collegiate athletes at a Division I university in the Southeastern United States. Ages ranged from 19 to 24 (M= 19.8). Burnout was assessed by the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). The instrument is divided into three subscales that include: Emotional Exhaustion (EE), Depersonalization (DP), and Personal Accomplishment (PA). MBI scores on the subscales were used to classify participants as (1) low burnout (2) moderate burnout, or (3) high level of burnout.  Results indicated female basketball athletes had the highest level of burnout in the areas of EE (M=27.2) and DP (M=8.5) which are classified as high (1) for EE and moderate (2) for DP. The volleyball players had the lowest sense of PA (M= 37.5) from their sport which correlates with a high (3) level of burnout. Participants on the track and field team experienced the lowest level of EE (M=12.7) which is classified as low burnout (1). Softball experienced the lowest level of DP (M=3.4) which is also classified as low (1), and tennis had the highest sense of PA (M=26.3) which means they were classified as having a low (1) level of burnout. Potential and current student athletes must be better educated in the area of stress and stress management. Further, they need to be better prepared for the demands of Division I collegiate athletics. Moreover, collegiate athletic departments should examine the programs offered to freshman athletes to include a course(s)/presentation(s) on stress and stress management to reduce the potential effects of burnout and avoid athletes quitting their sport.  Finally, these efforts might be more intense in those sports where athletes indicated higher levels of burnout.

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Efficacy of Relaxation Techniques in Increasing Sport Performance in Women Golfers

Submitted by Dr. Linda LaGrange*1 and Ms. Janet Ortiz*2.

1* New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM 87701 USA

2* New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas, NM 87701 USA

Dr. Linda LaGrange is a professor of psychology, concentration in psychopharmacology and physiological psychology at New Mexico Highlands University. Her research interests range from the biological correlates of sensation seeking to the fetoprotective capacity of bioflavonoids, and finally, the association of alcohol consumption with aggressive behavior.

Janet Ortiz received B.A. in Psychology and M.S. in Clinical Psychology from New Mexico Highlands University. She became interested in the game of golf at the age of four when first introduced to the game by her father. She began competitive golf at the age of six and played in the Sun Country (New Mexico and west Texas) and the American Junior Golf Association (national) junior circuits. In high school, Janet received All-District and All-State honors each year and was a five-time varsity letter winner. She was also a member of state championship team in 1996. Finally, Janet was a student-athlete as a member of the University of Wyoming women’s golf team for two years where she was a varsity letter winner both years.


Stress and anxiety can adversely affect athletic performance across all levels of athletic ability and types of sports. The researchers wanted to determine if progressive relaxation techniques (PRT) would improve sports performance in a group of female recreational golfers. The study was conducted over a 3-month period during which the experimental group (n=9) regularly engaged in PRT. Both the experimental group and the control group (n=9) played their regular golf game; recording their scores, putts per round, and number of greens hit in regulation. Preintervention measures were recorded and compared with post intervention measures. Both groups recorded significant improvement on all three measures. The amount of improvement observed for the experimental group was more than that observed for the control group. The between-group differences were not, however, significant.


One of the most difficult obstacles to overcome among people who strive to improve their sports performance is that of anxiety.  Anxiety becomes even more of an obstacle to attaining optimal performance in the concentration-intense sports such as golf.  Beyond the competition-induced stress and anxiety, the competitors may find themselves dealing with two other general sources of stress: competition-related issues such as coach/team interactions and stress factors that are completely external to competition, such as sleep deprivation.  Anshel, Kim, Kim, Chang, and Eom (2001) further categorized stress into acute and chronic stress.  Most relaxation techniques are designed to deal directly with acute stress, whereas there are few studies of possible relaxation methods that are designed to alleviate both acute and chronic stress.

Two of the most common general types of relaxation techniques are progressive relaxation and imaginal relaxation. Progressive relaxation is characterized by tensing and relaxing the muscle groups and is typically accompanied by deep breathing exercises. Specifically, it entails tensing a particular muscle group, maintaining the tension briefly, and then releasing the tension.  Typically, the individual begins with the lower extremities, gradually progressing up to the neck and shoulders (Nideffer, 1981; Bernstein & Borkavec, 1993). Imaginal relaxation techniques are driven by cognitive processes and do not involve muscular tension and relaxation (Scogin, Richard, Keith, Wilson, & McElreath, 1992).

Nicholls, Holt, and Polman (2005) interviewed a number of golfers to determine what types of coping strategies they employed when they were in the midst of competition.  The most effective strategies included rationalizing, reappraising, blocking, positive self-talk, following a routine, breathing exercises, physical relaxation, and seeking on-course social support.  In a recent qualitative study (Giacobbi, Foore, & Weinberg (2004), semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 golfers in which the golfers were asked to identify the most common sources of stress they encountered when playing golf.  They were then asked to describe their coping responses.  Their various coping strategies included cognitive strategies, relaxation techniques, off-course, efforts, golf course strategies, avoidance coping, and emotion-focused coping.  Of the 11, 6 used some form of relaxation, usually as part of their pre-shot routine.  The golfers found relaxation techniques effective both on and off the golf course.  In a study of 51 male varsity golfers, the efficacy of pre-competition imagery use on competition performance was examined.  The researchers found that motivational general mastery imagery was positively associated with golf performance as was elevated personal self-efficacy.  Interestingly, the higher the degree of personal self-efficacy, the more likely the golfers were to engage in general-mastery imagery (Beauchamp, Bray, & Albinson, 2002).  Finally, in a study in which comparisons were made of two coping interventions, cognitive intervention and progressive relaxation, Haney (2004) found that both strategies reduced trait anxiety and increased self-efficacy among a sample of female athletes.  However, the improvements seemed to be longer lasting for the cognitive intervention group.  It was not clear if the progressive relaxation group participants continued their relaxation program.  It seems likely that if the progressive relaxation program were discontinued, its beneficial effects would dissipate over time.

Giacobbi and Foore (2003) have observed that there has been relatively little research conducted on non-elite golfers.  They assert that the potential for sport psychologists to render services to the millions of avocational golfers in the U.S. could be greatly enhanced if more were known about how these golfers deal with sport-related stress.  Thus the current study recruited participants who were not professional athletes, but whose game would, nevertheless, be negatively influenced by anxiety.  We wanted to determine if regularly listening to a 20-minute standard progressive relaxation recording over a 3-month period would positively affect the participants’ golf game.


It was  hypothesized that the women in the experimental group who listened to the progressive relaxation tape would improve their golf performance relative to the women in the control group as measured by the following three dependent variables:  1) scores per 9-hole round, 2) number of putts per round, and 3) number of greens hit in regulation.



Before participant recruitment and data collection, the research protocol was reviewed and approved by the New Mexico Highlands University IRB committee.  Study participants were recruited from Women’s Golf Associations throughout New Mexico.  Their ages ranged from 19 to 48 years (mean = 33).  All of the participants had current United States Golf Association (USGA) handicaps between 6 and 12.


Each participant was given a 20-minute standard relaxation cassette tape.  The tape contents were originally developed by Dr. Kathy B. Parker, who, at the time, was a sport psychologist for the University of Wyoming Athletic Department.  Contained in the recording are the instructions for tensing and relaxing specific muscle groups, beginning with the arms, moving up towards the head, and then moving down the shoulders, back, and legs.


Recruitment fliers containing project information were posted at golf courses and country clubs throughout the state of New Mexico. Once recruited, the participants were asked to record the number of putts per round of golf (in this case, 9 holes), their scores for each round, as well as the number of greens hit in regulation, for the next four rounds.  These data provided the baseline for post intervention comparison purposes.  Once the baseline data collection was completed, the 18 participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups:  the experimental group, which received the relaxation tape, and the control group, which did not get a relaxation tape.  The participants assigned to the control group were instructed to continue with their normal practice and playing routines for the next three months.  They were provided with logbooks in which they were to record their scores, putts per round, and greens in regulation for each round of golf they played.  The experimental group participants were also given logbooks and instructed to maintain normal practice and playing routines.  In addition, they were told to listen to the relaxation tape five times a week, at bedtime, for the first 30-day period of the study.  At the end of the first month, the participants from both groups were asked to turn in all of their scores.

During the second month of the study, the participants in the experimental group were instructed to reduce the number of times they listened to the relaxation tape from five to three times per week.  Participants from both groups were instructed to continue with their normal practice and playing routines and to also continue keeping a record of their scores in the logbook.  At the end of the second month, the participants again turned in all of their scores.

In the third and final month, the participants in the experimental group were told to listen to the relaxation tape just once a week.  All other activities for both groups remained the same.  Upon completion of the third month the participants played a final 36 holes.  A final tally of the latest scores per 9-hole round, the number of putts per round, and the number of greens hit in regulation was recorded.


Means and standard deviations were computed for the pre and post conditions for both groups.  Pre group values did not vary significantly between groups for all three dependent variables; scores per 9-hole round, putts per round, and number of greens hit in regulation.

Because the participants were recruited in late winter and early spring, it was expected that participants from both groups would improve on all three dependent variables as a consequence of playing more often as the weather improved.  This indeed was the case (see Table 1).  However, we hypothesized that the participants in the experimental group would improve significantly more than their counterparts in the control group.

Figures 1-3 illustrate the improvement trends for both groups for each of the three dependent variables.  Independent groups t-tests were performed to compare the degree of improvement observed for the cassette group with the improvement observed for the no cassette group on each of the three dependent variables.  All effect sizes are reported using Cohen’s d equation.  For the first, in which the comparison was the improvement in scores per round for the cassette group (M = 0.1986, SD = 0.1254) and the no cassette group (M = 0.1143, SD = 0.1395), the difference was not statistically significant, t(16) = -1.299, p >0.05. The effect size was calculated at 0.64.  The second variable was that of number of putts per round.  The improvement by the experimental group (M = 0.0649, SD = 0.0286), although better than that of the control group (M = 0.097, SD = 0.0278), was not statistically significant, t(16 = -1.141, p >0.05.  The effect size was 0.54.  The final variable to be tested was that of the number of greens hit in regulation.  The experimental group (M = 0.2638, SD = 0.1401) again improved more than the control group (M = 0.1812, SD = 0.0792), however the difference in improvement was not statistically significant t(16) = -1.539, p > 0.05.  The effect size was 0.76.


As expected, both groups improved over the three-month course of the study.  The question was, however, would the participants in the experimental group demonstrate significantly greater improvement than their counterparts in the control group.  For each of the three dependent variables, the improvement observed in the experimental group exceeded that of the control group.  However, the group differences were not significant.  Yet, the effect sizes, ranging from .54 – .76, were certainly not negligible, indicating that the lack of significance was, in part, a consequence of the small sample size.  The improvement trends illustrated in Figs. 1-3 seem to grow more robust with time.

It would be of interest to determine if improvement leveled off after a specific length of time.  Additionally, would the level of improvement be maintained even if the participant no longer engaged in progressive relaxation?  This question is at least partially addressed by Haney (2004), who noted that many stress management plans for athletes are constructed to be sport-specific as well as task-specific.  In the case of progressive relaxation, the intervention can address sources of anxiety unrelated to sport performance.  However, in her study, the progressive relaxation group experienced a rebound level of anxiety (after significant improvement) from post-experiment levels to the follow up data collection.  This rebound was attributed, at least in part, to a reduction in the number of participants who continued to practice the relaxation regimen.  If we were to replicate our study, it would be useful to continue the sampling period beyond the 3-month period during which the experimental group was actively practicing the relaxation technique.

An observation made by Giacobbi et al. (2004) was that among non-elite golfers there is a great degree of variability in how individuals cope with stress.  It would be of interest to know whether the exposure to the progressive relaxation tape altered the coping responses of the participants or if it reduced the overall level of stress.  Another observation made by Hassmen, Raglin, and Lundqvist (2004) was that there was a strong correlation between Somatic Anxiety scores and golf performance.  In a future study it would be beneficial to determine if the long term practice of progressive relaxation would alter a participant’s scores on the Somatic Anxiety scale.

According to Nideffer (1976) one of the important issues to be considered when dealing with closed-skill sports, as is golf, is that the skills are automatic and thus do not demand a dynamic form of attention.  This frees up attentional processing capacity, which allows the athlete to attend to other stimuli, some of which could be internal feelings of anxiety.  This concept was studied further by Liao and Masters (2002).  They describe how stress can cause athletes to reallocate information-processing resources from athletic performance to irrelevant stimuli, thus impairing performance.  More of this process could be understood if we could determine if progressive relaxation techniques, by reducing anxiety, prevent the reallocation of information-processing resources.  Or, is it possible that the participants who engaged in the relaxation program simply increased their attentional processing capacity?

In summary, PRT seemed to enhance the improvement in golf performance observed in a group of female recreational golfers.  The dependent variables included scores per 9-hole round, number of putts per round, and number of greens hit in regulation.  The members of the control group also improved their golf game, but not to the degree experienced by the experimental group.  The effect sizes (Cohen’s d) for the differences in improvement were 0.64 for scores per 9-hole round, 0.54 for number of putts per round, and 0.76 for number of greens hit in regulation.


  1. Anshel, M.H., Kim, K-W, Kim, B-H, Chang, K-J, & Eon, J-J (2001).  A model for coping with stressful events in sport :  Theory, application, and future directions.  International Journal of Sports Psychology, 32, 43-75.
  2. Beauchamp, M.R., Bray, S.R., & Albinson, J.G. (2002).  Pre-completion imagery, self-efficacy, and performance in collegiate golfers.  Journal of Sports Sciences, 20, 697-699.
  3. Bernstein, D.A., & Borkovec, T.D. (1973).  Progressive relaxation training.  Champaign, IL:  Research Press.
  4. Giacobbi, P.R., & Weinberg, R.S. (2000).  An examination of coping in sport:  Individual trait anxiety differences and situational consistency.  Sport Psychologist, 14, 42-62.
  5. Giacobbi, P., Jr., Foore, B., & Weinberg, R.S. (2004).  Broken clubs and expletives:  The courses of stress and coping responses of skilled and moderately skilled golfers.  Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 16, 166-182.
  6. Haney, C.J. (2004).  Stress-management interventions for female athletes:  Relaxation and cognitive restructuring.  International Journal of Sport Psychology, 35, 109-118.
  7. Hassmen, P., Raglin, J.S., & Lundqvist, C. (2004).  Intra-Individual Variability in State Anxiety and Self-Confidence in Elite Golfers.  Journal of Sports Behavior, 27, 277-291.
  8. Liao, C.M. & Masters, R.SW. (2002). Self-focused attention and performance failure under psychological stress.  Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 24, 289-305.
  9. Nicholls, A.R., Holt, N.L., & Polman, R. (2005).  A phenomenological analysis of coping effectiveness in golf.  Sport Psychologist, 19, 111-130.
  10. Nideffer, R.M. (1976).  The Inner Athlete.  New York:  Thomas Crowell.
  11. Scogin, F., Rickard, H.C., Keith, S., Wilson, J., & McElreath (1992).  Progressive and imaginal relaxation training for elderly persons with subjective anxiety.  Psychology and Aging, 7, 419-424.

Ortiz LaGrange Table 1

Ortiz LaGrange Figure 1 Ortiz LaGrange Figure 2 Ortiz LaGrange Figure 3