• Hanno van Vuuren // MSc Sport Science – in

Coach Burnout: The Effect on Athletes


As a coach and sport scientist, I believe that “your energy introduces you, before you introduce yourself”, but what if there isn’t any energy to give? How quickly do your athletes pick up on this lack of enthusiasm and sense of detachment which are common trademarks of a burnt-out coach? Burn-out among coaches has become common at the end of a competitive season, but what ripple-effect can the build-up towards burnout have on your athletes? Due to us being in the human service profession (coaching/sport science) we do run a greater risk of experiencing burnout and this burnout may negatively affect those around us, and more specifically, our athletes[1].

“Coaches affect athletes as much as athletes affect coaches” – this being said, if you are not reaching your training and performance goals, it could lead to increased stress for coaches, which in turn could de-motivate athletes. This vicious cycle could continue throughout an entire season or build up towards an important competition. Due to working closely with your athletes, they are able to pick-up your “vibe” much better than you might think. This attitude could also potentially spill over to the rest of your coaching team, such as assistant coaches or even sport scientists[2]. Recently, I’ve stopped seeing the coaching staff as individual coaches and rather as the team behind the team – high energy levels can be contagious in team setups.

When considering sport scientists, they are a crucial asset to have, using their knowledge and understanding to defuse any potentially detrimental situation. For example a coach might have theoretical and practical knowledge of the sport, but might be lacking the skills to appropriately manage athletes in a holistic sense. This might tie in with two popular phrases that I discovered only recently The first phrase being “are you coaching a drill or are you coaching a skill” – is the athlete going to be able to apply this knowledge that you bestow upon them and transfer it to match or can they only act as robots and follow commands. The second question is: “Are you a coach or a selector”, do you try to improve the skills of your current players or do you just not select the players lacking in certain areas. In situations such as these, the sport scientist is able to see the sport from a different perspective, and can offer helpful input.

To bring this back to burnout, I believe a burnt-out coach might temporarily lose his sense of actual coaching and fall back on only selecting, which could in turn demotivate players. These burnt-out coaches could start focusing only on the execution of drills and lose sight of the skills which they sought to improve. With the repetition of the same drill could come a monotony in training, which could also frustrate athletes steering them to burn-out.

When looking at a burnt-out coach we can see certain trends, in a situation where a coach would implement some sort of variation within a training session they now stick to a monotonous program and lack creativity. This lack of variation could potentially be a breaking point for athletes who are already under pressure or not reaching training goals.

I recently interviewed a former South African Olympic runner, who said one of the most frightening thoughts to enter his mind was what would happen after his Olympic dream had been accomplished. In this high performance life that athletes lead, a cause of burnout could even manifest in the form of facing the reality of life after high performance sport. As coaches and sport scientists, our duty is to mentor athletes on and off the field. This off-field mentorship, I refer to as the extra mile – getting to know the athlete on a deeper level and trying to improve the other aspects of their life. For example if the athlete has an alternative career other than performance sport, I try to expand his network of connections. Thus, it is suggested that when investigating burnout in coaches and athletes we should be looking a lot further than only the win-loss ratios or performance goals.


A key factor to mention in this instance is the coach-athlete relationship and the trust exchange which is to be present. For me, trust exchange comes in the form of athletes believing in the training regime and buying in to what the coaching team prescribes. If the athletes don’t believe in the type of training they are doing, there is no chance getting quality training from the athlete each session. Also consider that if coaches are burntout and goals aren’t being reached, there might be a sudden change in training and preparation. It is at this stage when transparency is required between athlete and coaches, and even the coaching team.

I want to end off with one last quote “Everybody wants to be an elite athlete, but not everybody wants to live the life of an elite athlete”. Let us as coaches and sport scientists, create the environment for our athlete to be able to live the life of elite athletes. Let us be aware of burnout but strive to keep our energy up and our positive vibe contagious for our athletes.

  1. Altahayneh Z.L. 2003. Effect of coaches behaviour and Burnout on the satisfaction and burnout of athlete. Florida state university. pp 1-2.

  2. Raedeke, T.D., Granzyk, T.L. and Warren, A., 2000. Why coaches experience burnout: A commitment perspective. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 22(1), pp.85-105.

#Coaching #Burnout #Athletes

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