I was researching athlete burnout for a paper in my Coaching and Leadership class and I happened across an interesting article about the relationship between the peer motivational climate of athletic teams and burnout.  Burnout has been labeled as a factor that compromises an athlete’s well-being within the social context of sport.  Previous research has found that negative peer interactions are a contributing factor to burnout.  This research also found that an athlete’s perceptions of the team’s motivational climate are associated with how that athlete perceives burnout (Smith, Gustafsson, & Hassmén, 2010).  A motivational climate consists of the goal structures and expectations within an achievement setting that dictate how the team perceives success.  Research has outlined two types of motivational climate:  mastery or task-oriented and performance or ego-oriented.  A task-oriented climate promotes effort and cooperation, focuses on learning and emphasizes self-referential criteria for success.  An ego-oriented climate encourages social comparison and evaluation, intra-group competition and the punishment of mistakes.

Based on this research, Smith et al. (2010) conducted a study to “examine the association between athlete perceptions of the peer-created motivational climate and burnout” (p. 455).  The results of this study showed that the peer-created motivational climate was a modest predictor of burnout.  The results also showed that as the task-oriented aspects of the peer motivational climate (i.e. improvement, relatedness, support, effort) were negatively related to burnout.  These findings suggest that a task-oriented peer motivational climate may mitigate an athlete’s perceptions of burnout.

Teams would do well to take heed of what these findings suggest.  Teams that focus on learning, self-improvement and positive peer interactions will be less likely to experience the condition of burnout, which affects both performance and athlete welfare.  In other words, teams that focus on the process of sport and emphasize working together to succeed are more likely to do so than teams that place emphasis on winning (perhaps at all costs) and pit themselves against each other.

Smith, A., Gustafsson, H., & Hassmen, P. (2010). Peer motivational climate and burnout perceptions of adolescent athletes. Psychology of Sport Exercise, 11, 453-46