Exploring Levels of Student-Athlete Burnout at two Canadian Universities

by Ben L.

Research done by Dubuc-Charbonneau, Durand-Bush, and Forneris (2014) was used to increase awareness and study the effects of training in a varsity sport and the effects it has on a term called “burnout” in the course of a student’s academic and athletic performance. “Burnout” is a relative term referring the ones physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. This burnout is qualified by significant differences related to gender, sport, year of participation, academic year, and program. Being measured by administering Raedeke and Smith’s (2001) Athlete Burnout Questionnaire and it was resulted that lengths of participation, academic year, and program have no overall effects that follow, albeit type of sport and gender had major applications.

The type of sport resulted in differences between physical and mental exhaustion. Whereas some sports pertaining to physical some physical exhaustion (i.e. swimming practice is usually at 6:00 am) or mental exhaustion (i.e. dance and gymnastics) were exceptionally apparent in scores, as well as there being a major difference between men and woman. Women tend to be increasingly more exhausted due to several reasons that all seem very applicable and relevant (Kaiser, Dean. 2008).

This article really stood out due to its nature as a research paper. I myself experience an over active thyroid and create an overabundance of iron in my system. Me being energetic and enthusiastic about my surroundings for the vast majority of the day, I regularly involve myself in as many sports and recreation as possible to fit my free time. On average my body can work comfortably off of four to five hours of sleep without issues. However, recently I have become too busy and have taken steps and precautions to help my situation but have failed in some cases and sometimes experience even less sleep. In the last several months I have experienced some major cases of burnouts and have noticed a significant drop in my academic and athletic performance.

The main point to a study, especially regarding this course, is to look at the problem and aim to resolve it. That is what this course has been about thus far is to look at the big picture and to administer our progressive knowledge in solving some of the most relevant and even important arguments to date. Thus we see a problem with some of the research found as it is an appropriate study for almost any and all university students. How we can look to solve this is simple, the findings that are found are positive in incline and must be taken a step further in advancing our future as a community to truly understand what the problem is with the future generations. The need for over exertion has become prominent in the average day of a student athlete and must but taken into account when arguing about whom or what there is to blame. That is the problem in today’s culture, there is always a need for blame when a problem is brought up and cannot just be taken seriously. People need to realise that student athletes suffer in their own way.

Dubuc-Charbonneau, N., Durand-Bush, N., & Forneris, T. (2014). Exploring levels of student-athlete burnout at two Canadian universities. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 44(2), 135-151.


9 responses

  1. As a former varsity athlete, I can confirm that burnout is certainly an issue that affects many university athletes. In my first two years here at UNB I was a member of the UNB Varsity Reds Women’s soccer team. What some people don’t realize is that being a varsity athlete is a full time job in it’s self. So when you couple that with being a full time student there is a higher risk for becoming burnt out. There comes a point where you can’t function anymore because during your season you are spending 4 hours or more a day at practice. You had classes all day and when you get home its 9 or 10 pm and your exhausted anyways and you have to stay up late to finish a paper that’s due. I don’t think we are preparing new varsity athletes enough because university sport demand such a high level of commitment that a high school recruit might not realize.

  2. Great post ben! I completely agree with what you’ve said here. The burnout of student athletes can be extremely detrimental to their studies, performance, and in some cases it could be considered damaging to their social life as well. While I am not a varsity athlete, from playing in events for my university back at home that involve travelling long distances and have late finishes, I can directly relate to these ‘burnout’ issues. The main problem I feel is due to the intensity of the training and then the matches week in and week out, and that’s excluding all of the gym and fitness work that has to be done to keep up with the pace of modern day sport. When you then pile actual school work on top of this, it can then pose a huge problem for the students as they simply do not have enough time to complete all of these tasks and maintain a healthy amount of sleep, something which is vital for not only their performance, but more importantly their class grades.

  3. Great post Ben! You’ve touched on a subject I have never put much thought into before. I think that the research that suggests that women are more susceptible to being exhausted from academic and athletic commitments to be especially compelling. This is important to consider because of the relationship females form with sport and leisure at this time and later in life.
    As adults, women’s place a lower value on time spend on leisure and sport than males. This can be mainly attributed to motherhood. Motherhood is a large constraint to participation to leisure and sport. As these female student athletes graduate to motherhood, they will give up their roles in sport to become more involved in their children’s leisure. If these females have a poor experience in university and feel like sports have caused them to feel “burnt out” they will be even less likely to continue participation into motherhood.
    It’s important to take the leisure behaviours of mothers into consideration. Universities should aim to create a space where athletes are able to be balanced. The implications of a poor sport experience can affect the generations to come. If mothers do not participate in sport their daughters will not see them in a sport role. This may cause them to be less likely to participate in sports themselves.

  4. Hi Ben! Congratulations on a great post! I would definitely agree with you in saying that burnout is a pertinent problem for the majority of university students. I thought it was particularly interesting when you alluded to the additional stress factors that female varsity athletes face, and would love to hear more about those factors! Further in your discussion, you indicated that there are the different types of exhaustion that varsity athletes experience (physical and mental) and I am wondering which is more common for women? My guess would be the mental exhaustion, but I am curious as to what the research says. I, certainly, have experienced my fair of exhaustion and burnout. I was discussing this with my mother while we were comparing our university experiences. She completed a Business degree while living in Lady Dunn, while I am close to completing an Interdisciplinary Leadership degree while living and proctoring in Joy Kidd, running on the cross country team, and being involved in numerous other activities. So I wonder if there is more pressure on the millennial generation than there was for other generations to be more accomplished and involved at a younger age? Whether it be involvement in university varsity sport or otherwise. Further, I am wondering how the burnout millennials experience at a young age impacts their life once they have completed university? Does the exhaustion they experience in university mean that they will peak in their career early? Or perhaps they are more resilient for their trying experience in university?
    By: Haley MacIsaac

  5. Great post Ben! Its funny how this is such a relevant and rather large issue especially considering the constant growth in terms of actual student/student athletes yet the amount of time put into studying the issue or looking for the way to best resolve the issue is rather small in comparison. Most people couple the term “burnout” with a completely different demographic and person but when you really think about it that term suits the student athlete great, people who never attend college or university never experience the constant struggle of trying to juggle every aspect of life all the while having the stress of deadlines, mid-terms, exams, essays, and that is just a part of your scholastic duties imagine adding in a job, bills, volunteering, and then mix in sports on top of that which has so many other duties coupled with it you start to wonder where does this individual mix in sleep, relaxation, personal time? Its funny how obvious and simple this issue is but because it is never really brought to light people tend to sweep it under the rug. Again great post!


  6. Great post, Ben!

    Burnout is an issue that is so prevalent amongst university students but rarely recognized and talked about. As more students strive towards this ideal of perfectionism, burnout rates will only continue to rise, unless something changes.

    In today’s society, the motto seems to be do “more and more”. I believe social media is partially to blame for this epidemic; it is common for people to paint an image that they’re living the perfect life through online images and statuses. This causes everyone else to attempt to “keep up” or overachieve their peers, which creates a vicious cycle and eventually leads to burnout.

    Although the focus of this article was university students, I believe burnout is prevalent in many other populations as well, including mothers. Moms are another group who have fallen victim to the social media trap, which causes them to do too much to maintain their “perfect” motherhood status. Whether it be balancing the care of their children, housework, career goals, extracurricular activities, personal fitness goals, and maintaining a social life.. one of those categories, or their sanity, is going to be lacking.

    We place too much pressure on ourselves and each other. We should leave competing, with each other, to the soccer fields and hockey arenas. Thus, shifting the focus to bettering ourselves as individuals, whether that be as a student, mom, athlete, or friend. Although there are multiple benefits, such as time management skills, learned from having a busy schedule. Overloading your agenda and expectations, simply to outshine others, doesn’t benefit anyone.

    Megan C.

    • Great post! Something that should definitely be considered when thinking about participating in sport. I believe that a persons physical and mental health is more important that burning out because of sport and academics. Burnout does not happen in just sport and schooling though. It happens in everybody daily lives. Parents for example, have to juggle their parenting roles, leisure time and work life. I can remember back in high school I was highly involved in the student council and with activities I did outside of school. All of this had a profound impact on my marks. Burnout can be fixed with better time management and not taking on more than you can handle.


  7. This is a brilliant topic to focus on Ben!

    As a member of the UNB men’s Soccer team, I strongly agree that burnout plays a huge role in the overall academics and athletic performance of the student-athletes. The main problem for the soccer programs in Canada, is that they only last for 3 months….that’s huge compared to the typical soccer season of 10 months (Europe) that runs from August to May. To put the hours into perspective, in the pre-season (10 days at University level, 1-2 months in Europe/Professional level), we train typically for 4 hours a day. The first 2 hours in the morning are fitness sessions, whereas the afternoon is more technical and focussed on preparing the team for the upcoming season.

    Moving into the season itself, we only have 1 day off per week and it’s a Monday (although we are expected to attend the gym on our “days off”). We train Tuesday through Friday (2- 2&1/2 hours a day) and then play games back to back on Saturday and Sunday. We do all of this whilst focusing on academics as well, and so it becomes a real challenge, especially as you progress through the years at university. I feel that people judge student-athletes for getting extra benefits on the occasion, such as extensions on assignments, or missing mandatory classes for travelling. For people who think like this, I would encourage that you tried to put yourself through the things we do before judging our lives.

    I feel that the social life is actually better rather than affecting it, purely because you want to have that time to yourself and with your friends, especially after the things we go through.

    Great Job man!

  8. Really enjoyed reading your post Ben!

    Although I have never participated in Varsity sports here at UNB I began playing competitive hockey at a very young age. I remember when I was 11 years old, waking up at 5:30 in the morning every Tuesday and Thursday and going to the rink for practice two days a week before school. Along with this we had weekly off ice training sessions and often played two games on the weekend. Although I loved the sport too much at the time to complain I would love to go back and look at how this work load affected my life at such a young age. It would be interesting to look at how it affected my school work and the amount that I learned in the days following my early morning practices. I also wonder the affect that my busy schedule had on my parents who were the ones who had to drive me to the rink at such an early time in the morning only to have to go straight to their job after to work 8-10-hour work day. Burn out was not something that I had really considered until reading your post, very interesting to reflect on how it may have affected myself in the past.

    Carson. M

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