by Nick Serio

A Brief History  (bare with me through this one)…

Burnout as a conceptual and psychological detriment has been challenged and discussed since the early 1970’s.  When initially theorized it was designed to explain, recognize, and define an increased lack of production among employees and or management in the workplace [1].  Initially the concept was extremely ambiguous and much too encompassing to provide any creditable information that could have resulted in proper therapeutic treatment for its victims[2].

However, in the early 1980’s, the concept of burnout was provided its first scientifically recognized definition, “a psychological syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced sense of performance accomplishment among individuals who work in a service industry [3].  The ambiguity of burnout stems from two points of conjecture that have been long standing.  The difficulty in defining what comprises burnout and separating burnout from some other closely related and likely linked conditions impacting similar populations (i.e. depression, fatigue, overtraining, staleness, and dropout) [4].

In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, this initial definition was used to form a three-dimensional construct bounding its founding concepts.  The three dimension were emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and professional efficacy.  Emotional exhaustion is referencing emotional depletion and elevated levels of fatigue.  Cynicism is recognized as a distant and indifferent attitude towards colleagues and or consumers.  Professional efficacy is likely a consequence of burnout and is centered around personal value in work related accomplishments, responsibilities and or occupational role [5].  These three would be the determinants that would allow burnout to be applied to other institutions such as academia and eventually the world of sport and training.

To facilitate this concept’s use with athletes researchers altered the constructs to make them applicable to sport.  Physical exhaustion was added to emotional exhaustion in an effort  to evaluate the impact of intense training and/or competition on the physical and psychological capacity of an athlete.  Professional efficacy was altered to a reduced sense of accomplishment, which is used to demonstrate the diminishing ability to perform up to previous achievements or performance expectations.  Sport devaluation replaced cynicism  and represented a loss of interest, apathy, and resentment towards the sport, teammates, and coaches. These same researchers later provided a more concise definition of this concept; “ a withdrawal from sport or training noted by a reduced sense of accomplishment, devaluation/resentment of sport, and physical/psychological exhaustion” [6].


Unfortunately, the true constructs of burnout may always be ambiguous as will the signs, symptoms, and consequences to the general population.  However, it is our hope that through these next few articles we can address some of this ambiguity and provide clarity to your understanding of the constructs of burnout.  In turn it is important to us as coaches to be able to recognize these signs and symptoms early and to educate our community to do the same.  Preventative efforts and altered approaches can be taken to monitor and prevent burnout and it’s deeply routed consequences.  The difficulty lies in distinguishing it’s early warnings.

As promised…Here is our way less ambiguous definition of BURNOUT:

One of the main goals we strive to always achieve when concerning our approach to strength an conditioning of youth athletes is the necessity to simplify.  This simplicity is emulate in everything we do, from our facility layout, to our teaching practices, to our movement evaluations.  It is with this goal that we hope to be able to reach as many athletes as possible with one unified language.  Thus, our definition for “burnout” must follow suit and be able to be understood by not only our athletes but our entire youth athletic community.  It is with this simplicity that we will bring clarity and hope that this clarity will bring about change.


Is a psycho-physiological condition that is most notable brought on by ineffective efforts to meet excessive demands. It will likely present symptoms similar to withdrawal, resentment, fear, and/or apathy of attitude or performance.


[1] Freudenberger, H. J. (1974). Staff burnout. Journal of Social Issues, 30, 159–165.

[2] Goodger, K. I., Lavallee, D. E., Gorely, P. J., & Harwood, C. G. (2007). Burnout in sport: A systematic review. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 127–151.

[3] Maslach, C., & Jackson, S. E. (1984). Burnout in organizational settings. In S. Oskamp (Ed.), Applied social psychology annual: Applications in organizational settings (Vol. 5, pp. 133–153). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

[4] Raedeke, T. D. (1997). Is athlete burnout more than just stress? A sport commitment perspective. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 19, 396–417.

[5] Schaufeli, W. B., & Taris, T. W. (2005). Commentary: The conceptualisation and measurement of burnout: Common ground and worlds apart. Work & Stress, 19, 256– 262.

[6] Raedeke, T. D., Lunney, K., & Venables, K. (2002). Understanding athlete burnout:

Coach perspectives. Journal of Sport Behavior, 25, 181–201.

[7] Goodger, K., Lavellee, D., Gorely, T., & Harwood, C. (2010). Burnout in sport: Understanding the process- from early warning signs to individual intervention. In J. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (6th Ed). (Pp 492-511). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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