Syndrome of Professional Burnout in Trainer's Activity


T.A. Polyakova, associate professor, Ph.D.
Perm state humanitarian-pedagogical university, Perm

Key words: professional burnout syndrome, physical and psychological exhaustion, depersonalization, reduction of personal achievements.

Introduction. In the early 70-s American psychologist H. Freudenberg (Freudenberg, 1974) first used the term «Burnout» (translated from English - burning) in connection with the requirements for professions involving work with people. The term "burning" or "burn-out" was put into practice to characterize psychologically healthy people who are in close and intensive communication with other people when performing professional duties. In this connection, psychic burnout syndrome is indicated by several authors by the term "burnout", which enables to consider this phenomenon in terms of personal deformation under the influence of a long-term professional work experience in the same area [1, 3 et al]. Burnout syndrome is exhaustion or wearing out that occurs in a person as a result of dramatically excessive demands to his own resources and powers.

It should be noted that emotional burnout can affect specialist's personality strongly, deteriorating his health and desire to work. The burnout syndrome is particularly dangerous when it only starts developing, since the specialist is not aware of its symptoms. Therefore, the problem of professional burnout is relevant and requires further research and development. Study of the negative impact of a profession on the specialist’s personality is important enough to solve both theoretical and practical issues, as this impact leads to a decrease in efficiency, productivity and performance quality of an employee.

Based on the research of N.E. Vodop’yanova and E.S. Starchenkova, we found that quite a large number of people with high or average levels of burnout are found in professions of «person-person» groups where there is:

  • eventful working day due to communication with other people;
  • a large number of contacts that differ in content and stress;
  • high level of responsibility for the result of communication;
  • the need to take into consideration individual characteristics, claims, expectations, etc;
  • frequent claims on informal relationships while solving other people’s problems, etc. [1].

Trainer is one of such professions where a specialist has an enormous responsibility for the training of a harmoniously developed personality, preferably a future champion.

As stated in the Federal Law “On physical culture and sport in the Russian Federation”: “Trainer is an individual having appropriate secondary vocational education or higher vocational education and carrying out educational-training activities with athletes, as well as supervising their competitive activities in order to achieve sports results” [4]. There is completely invisible but huge, extremely versatile work behind this interpretation. Trainer’s job seems easy only at first glance. This person carries out a full range of activities aimed at an overall purpose. While teaching, the trainer performs the following main functions: management, formative, gnostic, regulatory, educational [2].

The management function is performed by providing versatile training of an athlete, which is manifested in decision-making, forecasting, organization, supervision, negotiation, monitoring and correction of this process. At the same time he should have a thinking style that is similar to academic: it should be exploratory, task-oriented, original and systematic [2].

The formative function is aimed at organizing educational process to develop the necessary technical and tactical skills, psychological functions, physical characteristics and individual properties of an athlete. Motor acts are formed under extreme conditions of training and competitive activities in accordance with the target final result.

The gnostic function is related to sharing the necessary knowledge and skills with an athlete and stimulating his cognitive activity.

The regulatory function optimizes activities, processes, mental states of an individual and organizes ethical norms of behavior.

The educational function is aimed at development of an athlete’s moral and volitional qualities, moral traits of public consciousness. In order to reach educational targets a trainer should form a united friendly team where each individual member feels support and care of his fellows, learns to subordinate his interests to those of the team, understand and feel the joy of common activity, etc. [2].

Performing such a significant function requires the trainer to have qualities and skills necessary for educational activity in general and that of a trainer in particular.

General educational requirements include:

• high level of moral consciousness;

• pedagogical education;

• stable moral and volitional standing;

• interest in modern achievements in sciences related to sports;

• self-control under any circumstances;

•  good organizational skills;

• ability to manage a team and enjoy prestige with his students and others. [2].

Specific requirements to trainer’s activity:

• knowledge of theoretical and methodological foundations of physical education and healthcare;

• skill to master technical and tactical skills and knowledge of modern scientific and methodological achievements in their sport;

• ability to select individuals most talented in a particular sport;

• ability to plan long-term training of athletes, given their individual characteristics;

• ability to train in their trainees the desire to exercise regularly;

• ability to train an athlete to achieve top results in competitions, etc.

At the same time the profession of a trainer has additional «risks» that contribute to his overall emotional state:

• athletes demonstrate significant results after 8-10 years;

• putting considerable personal resources into work in case of insufficient recognition and positive evaluation;

• sports classes in Youth Sports School (DUSh) or Specialized Children and Youth Sports School of the Olympic Reserve (SDUShOR) belong to the sphere of additional education, hence an athlete can stop training at any time;

• «delusive»  future of a talented athlete, especially in the regions;

• colleagues at work are employees and competitors;

• parental blackmail to ban trainings in case of athlete’s unsatisfactory progress in studies;

• a huge number of factors affecting athlete’s success to be considered in the training process and competitive activities while it is still impossible to take everything into account;

• enormous stress during competitions that has to be coped with «saving the face», etc.

The purpose of the study was to identify and compare the level of professional burnout among trainers of different age by sport.

Currently there are three common models of “psychic burnout” [1, 3, et al].

One-dimensional model. According to this model burnout is a state of physical and psychological exhaustion caused by a long term exposure to emotionally overloaded situations. It is often referred to as chronic fatigue syndrome. It can manifest itself in the form of the following symptoms: lack of sleep, poor quality of sleep, insomnia, decreased appetite or overeating, addiction to psychostimulants (tobacco, coffee, alcohol, drugs), etc.

Two-dimensional model. The second model considers burnout as ”a two-dimensional construct” consisting of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization. The latter manifests itself in changing attitude either to oneself or to others (to athletes, their parents, colleagues, school and club administration).

Three-dimensional model. The most common is the three-dimensional model of “burnout” syndrome of American researches Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson. In accordance with this model “burnout” is understood as a syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduction of personal achievements. Emotional exhaustion is at the same time regarded as a major component of “professional burnout” and is manifested in reduced emotional background, indifference or emotional oversaturation. The second component - depersonalization - is manifested in deformation of relations with other people, that is, in avoiding “extra” contacts and companies, increased dependency on superiors and particular individuals, heightened negativity, criticality, pragmatism and cynicism in attitude to people, in rejection of former friendship and reduction of social circle. The third component of “burnout” - reduction of personal achievements - can manifest itself either in the trend of negative evaluation of oneself, one’s professional achievements and success, negativism and pessimism regarding one’s professional strengths and opportunities for further professional growth [3].

Materials and methods. The study was conducted during 2013 with the participation of trainers-instructors of different sports (172 people) with different qualification and of different age that attended advanced training held by the research and practice laboratory of the Faculty of Physical Culture of Perm state humanitarian-pedagogical university (PSPU). The group of “young” specialists included 35 people, the group of “middle-aged” specialists included 76 trainers, and the group of “experienced” trainers included 61 people. “Maslach Burnout Inventory” (MBI) - a questionnaire based on the model of Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson - was used for the research [3].

Results and discussion. The results obtained of the questionnaire of trainers are shown in the Figure 1 below.



Figure. Manifestations of professional burnout syndrome of trainers of different ages - research results

As seen from the results of the survey, young trainers-instructors demonstrate one or another model of professional burnout syndrome. Burnout is present in fifteen out of thirty-five specialists. Thus, five young specialists are experiencing physical and psychological exhaustion. Most probably the cause of the exhaustion is that a young specialist has to instruct more groups of children to receive a more or less decent salary or to have several jobs. If the specialist operates in this mode for several years, he is guaranteed to have physical exhaustion. Lack of experience in the distribution of professional effort also counts, as well as lack of systematic work and desire to get results quickly. Six young specialists have the second model of the burnout syndrome and four - the third model.  In our opinion, certain personal qualities of a trainer can also be a “risk zone” for the development of the burnout syndrome: tendency to perfectionism, excessive responsibility, low self-esteem, undeveloped volitional powers. Therefore, if there is no preventive care against the burnout syndrome, the sphere of physical culture and sport will lose young promising specialists that will be looking for a more organized, less demanding and better-paid profession.

The picture is a graver in the group of 28-55 year old trainers. The three-dimensional model of the burnout syndrome was found with all the trainers of this group, only the syndrome trigger was different from that of the previous group. Specialists of this group have already stayed in the training profession and have results of different levels, but are nonetheless experiencing professional burnout. Most likely it is due to the fact that, having experienced the first victories, trainers more carefully approach organization of the training process. Instead of going on a deserved holiday they go to training camps with athletes or schedule additional training sessions. This category of trainers personally contributes more into their profession often assuming that athletes must do the same. Due to inconsistencies in their motivation, targets of sports activities, not properly planned sports training conflict in their relationship with the athlete arises as well as mutual frustration that lead to a change of attitude either to themselves or to other people (in particular, to athletes) and to the tendency of negative evaluation of their own professional achievements and successes. Many specialists in this group worried about further results of their trainees.

Analyzing the results of the survey in the group of “experienced” trainers, we found that the manifestation of the professional burnout syndrome does not occur as acutely compared with the previous group. In our opinion, these results can be explained by the following:

– this category of trainers is more philosophical about the organization of their work;

– if a specialist actualized himself in the profession, he has no desire to prove that he is a professional; if one hasn’t achieved significant results, he has resigned to this state of affairs already, etc.

Conclusion. Proceeding from the findings, the trainer's profession refers to the group most affected by professional burnout syndrome and requires more conscious control on the part of specialists and administrators of educational institutions themselves of compliance with preventive measures. Active forms of learning should be introduced in the educational process of training of specialists of the sphere of physical culture and sport, so that young professionals possessed not only the knowledge in the field of psychology, but also the skills of self-regulation.


  1. Vodop’yanova, N.E. Burnout syndrome: diagnosis and prevention / N.E. Vodop’yanova, E.S. Starchenkova. – St. Petersburg: Piter, 2005. – 336 P. (In Russian)
  2. Gogunov, E.N. Psychology of physical education and sport: study guide for students of higher ped. ed. institutions / E.N. Gogunov, B.I. Mart’yanov. – Moscow: Academia, 2000. – 288 P. (In Russian)
  3.  Workshop on sport psychology / Ed. by I.P. Volkov. – St. Petersburg: Piter, 2002. – 288 P. (In Russian)
  4. Federal Law "On physical culture and sport in the Russian Federation“ dated 04.12.2007 № 329-FL. (In Russian)

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