Authors: Donna Webster Nelson, Merry J. Sleigh, & Alyssa
The researchers compared
predictors of engagement and burnout in adolescent athletes and non-athletes by
focusing on daily positive and negative performance-related events (e.g.,
performing well in team practice) and interpersonal events (e.g., sharing a
laugh with teammates). Participants were recent high school graduates who
retrospectively reported participation in high school sports or heavy
investment in alternate activities (e.g., marching band). The athletes and
non-athletes were similar in how many hours they practiced and competed each
week, frequency of activity-related travel, and performance level. In addition,
the two groups did not differ in the extent to which their high school identity
and self-esteem were based on their participation. Results revealed no overall differences
between the two groups on engagement or burnout. For both groups, positive performance
events predicted activity engagement (characterized by dedication, vigor and
enthusiasm). However, the experiences of
athletes versus non-athletes differentially predicted burnout (marked by
emotional and physical exhaustion). In athletes, burnout related to both
performance and interpersonal events. In non-athletes, burnout was only related
to performance events. In addition, burnout was positively associated with
coach focus on winning (a situation more common for athletes) and negatively
associated with coach focus on fun (a situation more common for non-athletes).
These findings indicate that experiencing positive and negative events is a
precursor for engagement and burnout in high school athletes and non-athletes.
Promoting positive (relative to negative) events during training, practice,
competitions or performances could enhance benefits and prevent maladaptive
outcomes of participation in extracurricular activities. Positive social
interactions may be particularly important for preventing burnout in adolescent
Previous researchers strongly support the
idea that adolescent sports participation is beneficial. For instance, compared
to those who do not participate in sports, young athletes benefit from more
favorable self-perceptions including more positive body image (Bowker &
Findlay, 2009), enhanced feelings of physical competence (Koivula, 1999), and
increased global self-esteem (Bowker, 2006; Fredricks & Eccles, 2006).
Sports seem to serve a protective role by reducing the risk of self-esteem
declines that frequently occur during adolescence (Bowker, 2006) as well as
reducing the risk of adolescent depression (Dishman et al., 2006). Furthermore,
sports participation often provides opportunities for social interactions and
is linked to better social skills, less loneliness, and a sense of community
(Lin, Chalip & Green, 2016; Neely & Holt, 2014; Weiss & Ferrer, 2002). Finally, sports
participation has been associated with better self-regulation and effective
goal setting behavior (Bruner et al., 2017; Larson, Hansen & Moneta, 2006)
and this may explain why it has also been linked to higher academic achievement
(Eldridge et al., 2014; Lumpkin & Favor, 2012).
The aforementioned benefits reflect a
general or average effectfor
athletes who participate in organized sports compared with youth who do not.
However, sports participation does not result in uniformly positive outcomes.
Indeed, negative emotional outcomes are a relatively common consequence of
adolescent sports participation, most notably in the context of competitive
athletics (Curran, Appleton, Hill & Hall, 2011; Eklund & Cresswell,
2007). Some young athletes are plagued by a state of burnout, involving
physical and mental exhaustion, self-doubt and negative evaluations of one’s
athletic performance, as well as detachment and declining interest in their
sport (Cresswell & Eklund, 2006; Raedeke & Smith, 2001; Williams,
2018). Furthermore, these effects seem to be linked to negative mental health
outcomes including depression, anxiety, and fear of failure (Eklund &
Cresswell, 2007; Gustafsson, Sagar & Stenling, 2017).
Given the potential harmful consequences
of burnout on athlete performance and welfare, researchers have investigated
possible antecedents of this syndrome. A study of elite male rugby players
demonstrated that perceptions of sports-related stressors were positively
linked to burnout (Cresswell & Eklund, 2004), and in junior elite athletes,
chronic stress also predicted burnout (Frank, Nixdorf & Beckmann, 2017).
Similarly, adolescent athletes’ perceptions of negative conflict with peers or
coaches were identified as predictors of burnout (DeFreese & Smith, 2014;
Smith, Gustaffson & Hassmen, 2010). For example, coaches with a
disempowering or controlling motivational style increased the likelihood that
their athletes experienced burnout (Appleton & Duda, 2016; González, Tomás,
Castillo, Duda, & Balguer, 2017).
Alternatively, perceptions of social
support have been shown to be negatively linked to burnout in professional
athletes (Cresswell & Eklund, 2007), adult athletes (Al-Yaaribi &
Kavussanu, 2017), collegiate athletes (Defreese & Smith, 2013), and
adolescent athletes (Holt & Hoar, 2006). All of these findings are
consistent with the cognitive-affective stress-based model of athlete burnout,
arguing the idea that high amounts of sport-related stress in conjunction with
lack of effective coping mechanisms predict athlete burnout (Smith, 1986).
The flip side of this scenario is
reflected in athletes who experience deep engagement in their sport,
characterized by high levels of dedication, vigor, and enthusiasm (Lonsdale,
Hodge & Jackson, 2007; Schaufeli, Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma & Bakker,
2002). Vigor is defined by high levels of perseverance and striving for
excellence despite obstacles. Dedication is characterized as reflecting deep
involvement, inspiration and enthusiasm. Absorption is marked by deep
concentration and focus on the task. Albeit not as extensively investigated as
athlete burnout, athlete engagement has recently garnered the attention of
researchers who acknowledge the need to study well-being in conjunction with
ill-being. Positive sports engagement has been linked to favorable outcomes
including effective self-regulation of behavior (Martin & Malone, 2013),
personal and social responsibility (Martins, Rosado, Ferrerira, & Biscaia,
2017), continued sports participation (Henry & Hodges, 2018), competency
(DongWook & Youngkuk, 2015), positive affect (Lonsdale et al., 2007) and
the experience of flow, an intrinsically rewarding state of deep immersion in
an activity (Hodge, Lonsdale & Jackson, 2009).
Previous researchers have also begun to
examine antecedents of sports engagement. In accordance with their theory of self-determination,
Ryan and Deci (2002) argue that satisfaction of basic psychological needs
including autonomy (perceptions of choice and self-direction), relatedness
(feelings of connecting to others) and competence (confidence in one’s abilities)
determine the extent to which positive states such as engagement or flow will
occur. Researchers have provided evidence that supports this proposed link
between satisfaction of basic psychological needs and engagement of athletes
(e.g., Curran, Hill, Hall & Jowett, 2014; Hodge et al., 2009; Podlog et
al., 2015). As one example, coaching
styles impact whether athlete’s psychological needs are met, which in turn,
interacts with athlete engagement. Curran, Hill, Hall, and Jowett (2015) found
that overall engagement was higher when coaches focused on skill mastery versus
performance. Conversely, burnout was related to coaches’ failure to satisfy
athletes’ needs (Moen & Federici, 2017). Similarly, the satisfaction of
psychological needs provides an explanation for perfectionistic concerns
predicting burnout and perfectionistic strivings predicting engagement (Jowett,
Hill, Hall & Curran, 2016). This relationship between basic needs,
engagement, and burnout has also been documented outside the world of
athletics. Thwarting of basic needs seems to prevent engagement and predict
burnout in employees (e.g., Deci & Ryan, 2014; Van Den Broeck,
Vansteenkiste, De Witte, & Lens, 2008) and middle school students (e.g., Bartholomew,
Ntoumanis, Ryan and Thogersen-Ntoumani, 2011).
Recent researchers, using the workplace
context, explored engagement and burnout from a unique perspective, focusing on
the relationship between well-being and daily positive and negative events. Sinclair
et al. (2015) conducted an 8-month longitudinal study of nurses and found that
daily performance and interpersonal events predicted outcomes such that
positive events increased nurses’ engagement, while negative events undermined
their engagement and facilitated burnout. These findings are consistent with
the Affective Events Theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) which argues that
positive or negative affective events in the workplace evoke emotional
responses that influence workers’ attitudes or actions. Sinclair et al. (2015)
also found that negative events were more strongly linked to both engagement
and burnout, compared to positive events. These particular results support the
“bad is stronger than good” premise, suggesting that negative, compared to
positive, events are more highly associated with healthy outcomes (Baumeister,
Bratsiavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001).
The importance of daily events has been
highlighted by literature in the stress and coping domain as well. According to
Delongis, Coyne, Dakof, Folkman, and Lazarus (1982), daily hassles account for
a greater proportion of accumulated stress over an individual’s life span,
compared to more major life events or catastrophes. Daily hassles have been
linked to anxiety (Asselmann, Wittchen, Lieb, & Beesdo-Baum, 2017; Johnson
& Swendsen, 2015), emotional exhaustion (Schmidt, Klusmann, Lüdtke, Möller,
& Kunter, 2017) and psychological distress (Villeneuve et al., 2014), while
daily positive events seem to support daily well-being (Machell, Kashdan, Sort
& Nezlek, 2015; Nezlek, Rusanowska, Holas, & Krejtz, 2017). Thus, a
focus on routine, day-to-day occurrences may prove informative in taking
proactive steps to prevent negative consequences of adolescent sports
participation and promote positive outcomes. Prior research in sport and work
contexts has documented noteworthy overlap with respect to predictors of
engagement and burnout in these two domains. However, previous studies have not
concomitantly examined the impact of daily events on adolescent athlete burnout
and engagement. Thus, in the present study, the researchers expected that
routine occurrences may impact adolescent athletes in a manner comparable to
that observed in a work context (e.g., Sinclair et. al., 2015) influencing the
quality of adolescent sports participation, as well as athletes’ experience of
negative or positive emotional outcomes.
The present study also compared
experiences of athletes with that of non-athletes who become deeply involved in
alternate activities such as music or dance. Much of the previous research
compares athletes to non-athletes, without clarifying the extent to which
non-athletes engaged with extracurricular activities outside a sport context.
Thus, data directly comparing participants across different extracurricular
involvements is limited. Poczwardowski and Conroy (2002) reported different
coping strategies for elite athletes compared to performing artists. Other
researchers who have examined these two groups in conjunction found that high
school students involved in either sports or alternate arts-related activities
were less likely to drop out (Neely & Vaquera, 2017) and exhibited higher
levels of self-awareness, social connectedness, and social responsibility
compared to those not involved in such activities (Bower & Carroll, 2015).
The expectations in the present study were
that daily events tied to performance and interpersonal interactions would
predict engagement and burnout in adolescents who were actively engaged in
athletics or other extracurricular activities. Specifically, a positive
association was expected between engagement and positive events and a negative
association between engagement and negative events. A reverse pattern was
expected for burnout. Specifically, the current researchers expected a negative
association between burnout and positive events and a positive association
between burnout and negative events. The current researchers also expected
greater vulnerability to burnout for adolescents who worked with a coach or
activity leader who emphasized winning. This prediction is consistent with
findings revealing a link between athlete stress and competitive pressures
(e.g., Cresswell & Eklund, 2006; Gould, Tuffey, Udry & Loehr, 1997).
Seventy-three participants reported sports participation during high
school, and the remainder reported heavy participation in some non-sport
activity during high school. The most common sports activities were basketball
(14 participants), track (10 participants), soccer (9 participants), volleyball
(6 participants), and softball (6 participants). Other sports included
baseball, football, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, swimming, tennis, and
wrestling. The most common non-sports activities reported were orchestra/music
(7 participants), marching band/color guard (5 participants), and dance (3
participants). Other activities traditionally not called “sports” included
Junior ROTC, student government, yearbook, photography/video club and theatre.
The researchers compared the demographic characteristics of the two groups. Chi-squares
tests of independence confirmed that the groups were equivalent for
participants’ race [χ2(2, N
= 121) = 4.84, p > .05, ns] and gender [χ2(1, N = 120) = 0.44, p > .05, ns]. A t-test
confirmed that the mean age of the two groups did not significantly differ, t(116) = -1.92, p = .057.
Participants encountered a series of researcher-created questions that
assessed hours per week participants invested in their activity, frequency of
activity-related travel, seriousness of participation, importance of
participation, amount of time spent thinking about the activity, and
performance level. Responses were made on 4-point Likert scales. Participants
were also asked to indicate how much their identity and self-esteem during high
school were based on the activity; these responses were made on 5-point Likert
scales. Participants were asked to rank five factors (self-esteem, group
cohesion, winning, improvement/growth, and fun) with 1 representing the factor
that they perceived was most important to their coaches and 5 representing the
factor that was least important to their coaches.
Participants also responded to the 12-item Sport Engagement Scale, which
assess three aspects of engagement: vigor, absorption, and dedication (Guillén
& Martínez-Alvarado, 2014). On the original scale, the questions are worded
in the present tense. The researchers modified the scale by making the
questions past tense, as participants were told to reflect on their high school
experience. For example, “I am persistent in my sport activity” was modified to
become “I was persistent in my sport activity.” An example of a modified item
assessing vigor was “I was able to train for long periods of time.” An example
of an item assessing dedication was “I was enthusiastic about my sport
activity.” An example of an item assessing absorption was “Time flew when I was
training or competing.” Participants responded on a 5-point Likert scale where
1 represented “Strongly Disagree” and 5 represented “Strongly Agree.” The scale
functions best as a one construct scale, with a published reliability alpha of
.90 (Guillén & Martínez-Alvarado, 2014). This sample achieved a reliability
Participants responded to a modified version of the Burnout-Exhaustion
scale from the Athlete Burnout Questionnaire (Raedeke & Smith, 2001). This
five-item scale measures the level of physical and emotional tiredness that an
athlete experiences. The original scale is specific to swimming and the wording
is in the present tense. The researchers made two modifications. First,
statements were re-worded to be applicable to any sport/activity. Second, statements
were worded in past tense, as participants were reflecting on their high school
experiences. For example, one item measuring exhaustion “I feel overly tired
from swimming” was modified to “I felt overly tired from my sport/activity.”
Participants responded on a 5-point Likert scale where 1 represented “Almost
Never” and 5 represented “Almost Always.” The reliability alpha for the
original scale is .88 (Raedeke & Smith, 2001) and the computed reliability
alpha for the modified scale was .91.
The researchers developed four
scales to measure positive and negative interpersonal and performance events
experienced. To develop the scales, the researchers questioned elite and
recreational high school athletes, and wrote items based on common themes that
emerged. The wording of the items was modeled on the previously mentioned scale
that assessed positive and negative interpersonal and performance events in
nurses and linked to both engagement and burnout in that sample (Sinclair et
al., 2015). For example, the original scale had items such as, “A coworker
complimented my work” and “I had duties for which I did not have sufficient
education and/or experience,” while the new scale had items such as, “A
teammate complimented my work” and “I was asked to perform skills for which I
did not have enough training and/or practice.” Participants responded on a
6-point Likert scale where 1 represented “Never” and 6 represented “Very
were 22 items for Negative Performance, such as “I was bothered by physical
pain during competition” and “I felt unmotivated during training/practice.” The
scale achieved a reliability alpha of .92. Positive Performance had 17 items,
such as “I exceeded my personal best at a critical time” and “I felt confident
during training/practice.” The scale achieved a reliability alpha of .93.
Negative Interpersonal had 17 items, such as “My teammates made me doubt my own
abilities” and “My coach expected too much from me.” The scale achieved a reliability
alpha of .92. The first version of the Positive Interpersonal scale had 16
items with a reliability alpha of .76. Reliability analysis revealed that one
item had low correlation with the others (“I had positive interactions with my
coach”). Dropping this item raised the reliability alpha to .90. Thus, the
final Positive Interpersonal scale had 15 items, such as “My teammates and I
supported each other” and “My coach supported me.” See Table 1 for a list of
Participants were tested in group
settings, and the protocol received Institutional Review Board approval. The
study used retrospective methodology and the survey materials began with
participants being instructed to “think only about the time period when you
were in high school.” They were then asked if they had participated in any type
of sport. Participants who played sports were asked to indicate the one sport
that was “the biggest part of your identity at the time” and “the sport in
which you invested the most time and energy.” Participants who indicated that
they did not play a sport were asked to indicate the one activity that was “the
biggest part of your identity at the time” and “the activity in which you
invested the most time and energy.” Athletes were told to keep their sport in
mind as they responded to the survey questions, while non-athletes were told to
focus on their extracurricular activity. Non-athletes were presented with substitute
wording or explanations of word definitions in the scales where necessary. For
example, they were told that “teammates” should refer to any peers who
participated in their activity alongside them, while “coach” could be a leader
or group supervisor.
Following these instructions,
participants encountered the researcher-created questions related to investment
with activity, identity, and perceived coach emphasis. Participants then
responded to the modified versions of the Sport Engagement Scale (Guillén &
Martínez-Alvarado, 2014), the Burnout-Exhaustion scale (Raedeke & Smith,
2001), and the researcher-developed scales assessing positive and negative
interpersonal and performance events.
Means were calculated for the four
performance and interpersonal scales for all participants combined. Negative
Interpersonal yielded an overall mean of 2.06 (SD = .85). Positive Interpersonal yielded a mean of 5.12 (SD = .63). Negative Performance yielded
an overall mean of 2.80 (SD = 1.05),
and Positive Performance yielded an overall mean of 4.93 (SD = .65). The mean for
engagement was 3.92 (SD = .57) and
for burnout was 2.68 (SD = .96).
Burnout and engagement were not significantly correlated, r(121) = -.01, p = .916.
Athletes and non-athletes were compared using a MANOVA.
Table 2 depicts the means (p > .05
in all cases). There were no differences between these two groups in how many
hours they practiced and competed each week, frequency of activity-related
travel, performance level, importance of the activity, time spent thinking
about sport, and the seriousness of their participation. In addition, the two groups did not differ in
the extent to which their high school identity and self-esteem were based on
their participation. The results also revealed no differences between the two
groups on engagement, burnout, two interpersonal scales, and two performance scales.
Table 2. Mean and Standard Deviations for Athletes and Non-Athletes
Practice hours per week
Competition hours per week
Frequency of travel
Seriousness of participation
Importance of activity
Time spent thinking of activity
Identity based on activity
Self-esteem based on activity
Performance level in activity
Multiple linear regressions were used with
negative and positive performance and interpersonal variables to examine
predictive factors for engagement and burn-out in athletes and non-athletes as
separate samples. See Table 3. In athletes, positive performance (β = .65, p < .001) predicted Engagement and a
significant proportion of variance, F(4, 71) = 18.70, p <
.001, R2 = .53. In non-athletes, positive performance (β =
.64, p < .001) also predicted Engagement and a significant
portion of variance, F(4, 47) = 12.28, p < .001, R2 = .53.
Table 3. Beta Coefficients and Significance for Linear Regressions
In athletes, positive interpersonal
events (β = -.29, p = .029) and negative performance (β = -.41, p = .001)
predicted Burnout and a significant proportion of variance, F(4, 71) =
10.92, p < .001, R2 = .40. In non-athletes,
negative performance (β = .77, p < .001) and positive performance (β = .50,
p = .032) events predicted Burnout, F(4, 47) = 6.00, p = .001, R2 = .36.
For athletes, activity-frequency predicted engagement, with moderate to
large effects. Higher Engagement scores were related to: more frequent
travel to play the sport, r(72) = .37, p = .002, seriousness of
athletes’ participation, r(73) = .59, p < .001, importance of the sport to the players, r(73) = .54, p
< .001, identity more strongly based on sport during high school, r(73)
= .63, p < .001, self-esteem more strongly based on sport during high
school, r(72) = .43, p < .001, more time spent thinking about
the sport, r(73) = .58, p < .001, and higher self-reported
performance levels, r(73) = .45, p < .001. The higher the
engagement score, the more the athletes agreed that their current identity is
related to that same sport, r(73) =
.35, p = .002, a moderate effect. In
contrast, none of the activity- or identity-related variables related to
burnout in athletes.
For non-athletes, activity-frequency and identity variables predicted
both burnout and engagement. Representing large effect sizes, higher Engagement
scores were related to: seriousness of non-athletes’ participation, r(48)
= .65, p < .001, importance of the
activity, r(48) = .64, p < .001, identity more strongly based on
activity during high school, r(48) = .63, p < .001,
self-esteem more strongly based on activity during high school, r(48) =
.63, p < .001, more time spent thinking about the activity, r(48)
= .60, p < .001, and higher self-reported performance levels, r(48)
= .53, p < .001. The higher
the engagement score, the more the non-athletes agreed that their current
identity is related to that same high school activity, r(48) = .39, p = .006;
this is a moderate effect. Reflecting moderate effects, higher burnout was
related to: hours of competition per week, r(47)
= .32, p = .031, and identity more
strongly based on activity during high school, r(48) = .31, p = .031.
In athletes, positive but not negative events
predicted how important the sport was, how much the athletes’ identities during
high school were based on the sport, and how much time the athletes spent
thinking about their sport. The more important the sport, the higher the
Positive Interpersonal, r(73) = .26, p = .024, and the higher the Positive
Performance, r(73) = .38, p = .001. The more an athlete’s identity
was based on the sport, the higher the Positive Interpersonal, r(73) = .24, p = .044, and the higher the Positive Performance, r(73) = .39, p = .001. The more time the athletes spent thinking about their
sport, the higher the Positive Interpersonal, r(73) = .33, p = .004,
and the higher the Positive Performance, r(73)
= .41, p < .001. These are small
to moderate effects.
In non-athletes, Positive Performance was the only
predictor for how important the activity was, how much the non-athletes’
identities during high school were based on the activity, and how much time the
non-athletes spent thinking about their activity; however, several variables
predicted seriousness of participation. The higher the Positive Performance,
the more important the activity, r(48)
= .43, p = .001, the more identity
was based on the activity, r(48) =
.38, p = .007, and the more time
spent thinking about the activity, r(48)
= .40, p = .004. These are moderate
effect sizes. In non-athletes the more serious the participation in the
activity, the higher the Positive Interpersonal, r(48) = .35, p = .014,
the higher the Positive Performance, r(48)
= .67, p < .001, the lower the
Negative Interpersonal, r(48) = -.37,
p = .010, and the lower the Negative
Performance, r(48) = -30, p = .039; there are moderate to large
Participants ranked the perceived emphasis of
their coaches from 1 being the most emphasized to 5 being the least emphasized
focus. Table 4 depicts the means. Both athletes and non-athletes were most
likely to perceive that their coaches emphasized improvement/growth followed by
group cohesion. Athlete coaches then emphasized winning, self-esteem, and fun.
Non-athlete coaches then emphasized fun, self-esteem, and winning. The coaches
of athletes were more likely to focus on winning [t(108) = -2.28, p
= .025], whereas non- athlete coaches emphasized fun [t(107) = 2.27, p
= .025]. The more coaches emphasized having fun, the lower the burnout, r(109) = .27, p = .005; the more coaches emphasized winning, the higher the
burnout, r(110) = -.24, p = .010. These are small effects.
Table 4. Participant Mean Rankings and Standard Deviations for Coaches’ Emphasis
These findings build on what is known
about the comparability of experiences for athletes and non-athletes. They also
provide a unique perspective by comparing the experiences of adolescent
athletes with those who were not engaged in athletics but were deeply invested
in alternate extracurricular activities. Results revealed that high school
athletes and non-athletes shared similar levels of investment in and experiences
related to their sport or non-sport activity. These two groups also experienced
similar levels of positive and negative performance and interpersonal events,
with positive experiences being more common than negative experiences.
The researchers hypothesized that positive performance
and interpersonal events would predict engagement, a prediction that was
partially supported. The results demonstrated that positive performance events
predicted engagement for both athletes and non-athletes. Interpersonal events
did not. High school students who enjoyed training and were inspired to invest
outstanding effort during practice experienced deep engagement in their
extracurricular activities. In turn,
engagement and positive events strongly predicted high school students spending
more time participating in and basing their identities on their extracurricular
involvement, even into later adolescence (e.g., the early college years).
It is noteworthy that positive events
predicted engagement, while negative events did not. This finding supports the
premise of Affective Events Theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), stating that
positive emotional states are evoked through daily events that inspire positive
affect. These results suggest that positive daily events can provide a
foundation for enhancing constructive engagement in high school extracurricular
activities, thereby increasing students’ well-being and quality of life.
Despite these similarities related to
engagement, the experiences of athletes versus non-athletes differentially
predicted burnout and did not match the hypotheses. For high school athletes,
negative performance events and positive interpersonal events linked to
burnout. In non-athletes, performance events (both positive and negative)
linked to burnout, while interpersonal events were not significant predictors.
This pattern of results suggests that social factors have a greater impact on
athletes’ (compared to non-athletes’) vulnerability to burnout. This difference
highlights the unique effect relational variables may exert on young people who
play sports and is consistent with research that identified social support as a
significant resource for student athletes (Freeman, Coffee & Rees, 2011;
Reverdito et al., 2017) and a lack of social support as a contributor to
burnout in collegiate athletes (DeFreese & Smith, 2014). Previous
researchers have argued that the interdependence seen among athletes (both in
individual and teams sports) relates to positive outcomes, such as improved
group functioning, athlete satisfaction, social skill development, and social
identity (Bruner, Hall, & Cote, 2011; Bruner, Eys, Blair & Wilson,
2015; Evans & Eys, 2015). Indeed, collegiate athletes have been found to
underutilize professional mental health services, relative to non-athletes,
presumably due in part to reliance on teammates for social support as an
alternative to formal support services (Pinkerton, Hinz & Barrow, 1989).
Positive interpersonal relations seemed
to be less central to emotional outcomes of adolescents in this study who
engaged in non-athletic (versus athletic) extracurricular activities. Rather,
performance events, which reflect an emphasis on independent action, assumed a
greater focus for non-athletes. This pattern reinforces the notion that high
school athletics may emphasize interdependence to a greater degree than
alternate extracurricular activities.
For athletes in this study, only positive
events predicted athletic involvement and identity, and these activity and
identity variables did not relate to burnout. In contrast, both positive and
negative events influenced non-athletes’ seriousness of participation, and
non-athletes’ burnout increased with more hours of competition per week and the
more their identity was based on their activity. One explanation can be derived from Schaefer,
Simpkins, Vest, and Price (2011) who used social network analysis to compare
middle and high school students’ extracurricular participation in sports and
arts. They found that dyadic friendships were strongest for students who
participated in the arts versus sports and suggested that athletes were likely
to be friends with a variety of other students, both athletes and non-athletes,
whereas artists were most likely to be friends more exclusively with other
artists. This restriction in social networking could mean that when negative,
activity-related events occur, especially those related to identity, non-athletes
have limited external resources and consequently experience burnout.
Another difference in this study concerned
the emphasis of coaches/activity leaders in sports and non-sports contexts.
Sports coaches were more prone to focus on winning, while non-sports coaches
were more likely to concentrate on fun. Supporting the hypothesis, burnout was
positively linked to an emphasis on winning and negatively associated with a
focus on fun. This suggests that young athletes may experience more coaching-related
risk factors for burnout compared to non-athletes.
and Future Directions
Although utilized by
previous researchers in this domain (e.g., Coutinho, Mesquita, Fonseca &
Cote, 2015; Russell, 2014; Zibung & Conzelmann, 2013), a limitation of the
present study is the reliance on self-report data that required participants to
assume a retrospective perspective, reflecting on their recent high school
experiences. Although the majority of participants were reporting on relatively
recent events, this methodology could have contributed to measurement bias. Perhaps
specific events led to burnout and engagement, or the experience of burnout or
engagement colored past perceptions. Future studies could focus on high school
students who are actively engaged in their sport or non-sport activity to
address this concern. It is worth noting, however, that even if the outcome
modified memories, this study reported unique effects for athletes and
non-athletes related to burnout.
Another potential future
direction for researchers would be to examine the role of personality traits or
other individual difference variables as moderators of the connection between
daily events and engagement and burnout in young people. The interplay between
person variables and situational factors in determining emotional outcomes has
been highlighted in models such as the cognitive-relational theory of stress
(Lazarus, 1991). If personality variables interact with environmental factors
to impact appraisals of stress, this interplay is likely to have relevance to
the experience of burnout and engagement. Exploring these variables would
increase the understanding of the factors that contribute to the creation of
activity contexts that promote favorable as opposed to unfavorable outcomes in
the extracurricular pursuits of high school students. Furthermore, the
association between parental involvement and burnout and engagement in athletes
and non-athletes could be examined. While parental support
has been identified by student athletes as an important coping resource (Cosh
& Tully, 2015) excessive parental pressure and focus on success or failure
are associated with athlete stress (Gustafsson, Hill, Stenling & Wagnsson,
2016). Since predictors of burnout differed for athletes and non-athletes in the
present study, it is possible that parents may exert a different effect on adolescents
engaged in sports and non-sports activities. Last, coaches of youth sports
report that they emphasize fun, growth, social connections, and confidence as
the most important outcomes for their athletes (Lesyk & Kornspan, 2000),
which was similar, but not identical, to the present findings. Future
researchers may want to investigate whether coaches and athletes agree on what
coaches believe they are emphasizing, as complementary goals between coaches
and athletes relate to lower levels of burnout (Westfall, Martin & Gould, 2018).
This study compared
predictors of engagement and burnout in adolescent athletes and non-athletes.
The researchers focused on daily positive and negative performance-related
events and interpersonal events. Results revealed that experiencing positive
and negative events during activity participation is a precursor for engagement
and burnout in youth who are invested in both sports and non-sports activities.
A significant number of adolescents are invested in
extracurricular pursuits during their high school years. While some experience
healthy engagement in their activity, others experience maladaptive symptoms
associated with burnout. The findings of this study indicate that a fruitful approach to enhancing benefits and preventing maladaptive
outcomes associated with high school sports and non-sports activities is to
focus on increasing the frequency of positive (relative to negative) daily
events experienced by participants. These positive events can be
performance-based or interpersonal. Although not all of the variables examined
in the present study are under the coach’s control (i.e., poor weather
conditions), many are under the direct or indirect influence of the coach. For
example, coaches can increase positive performance events by providing
functional equipment, monitoring athlete injuries, and offering regular
opportunities for success during practice.
Positive social interactions
may be particularly important for preventing burnout in adolescent athletes. Coaches
can increase positive interpersonal events by verbally encouraging athletes, having
realistic expectations of athletes, and explaining rationales for tasks.
Coaches can also promote social support among their players by implementing
cooperative practice teams (Standage & Vallerand, 2008) and organizing
team-building social events (Bloom & Wickwire, 2003).
that emphasize winning increase the susceptibility
to burnout, so increasing the frequency of positive events may be particularly
important in competitive contexts. Coaches of competitive teams should be
to design practice, training, and performance environments that promote
intrinsic enjoyment of the sport. Autonomy promotes intrinsic motivation and
thus coaches should provide athletes choices and opportunities to take
initiative. All of the aforementioned constructive steps will help safeguard
participants from the debilitating effects of burnout and provide a path for promoting their positive engagement, retention, optimal performance and
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