Athletic Insight - The Online Journal of Sport Psychology

Direction and Intensity of Trait Anxiety as
Predictors of Burnout among Collegiate Athletes

J. Gualberto Cremades, Barry University,
and Matthew S. Wiggins

Murray State University

ABSTRACT

Introduction

Method

Results

Discussion

References

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ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study was to determine burnout differences related to gender and sport type (i.e., individual versus team), and to determine the relationship between anxiety direction, anxiety intensity, and burnout while controlling for gender and sport type. Collegiate athletes (N=130) completed the Athlete Burnout Questionnaire as well as a trait version of the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2D. A 2-way MANCOVA indicated a significant 2-way interaction for gender by sport type on the Reduced Sense of Accomplishment subscale. In addition, results indicated significant main effect differences for gender and sport type. A hierarchical regression analysis was conducted to predict burnout from anxiety intensity and direction. Self-confidence was the only directional scale that predicted Reduced Sense of Accomplishment, Emotional/Physical Exhaustion, and Devaluation. The intensity of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence were associated with greater levels of Reduced Sense of Accomplishment. Conclusions and applied implications are drawn based on the results mentioned above.

Introduction

       Increases in performance over time appear to come about partially based on the increased need or desire by athletes to dedicate themselves to their sport and athletic accomplishment. Athletes practice countless hours to improve their skill and talent. Years ago, athletes routinely played in several sports at the high school level. Now athletes are choosing to compete in only one or possibly two sports. In some cases, by the time an athlete is in middle school they are specializing in one sport. According to Coakley (2007), many athletes are enrolling in private or elite sport training camps that adopt a year-round training focus to increase their chances of a scholarship or making it into professional sports. With this specialization and dedication comes the high expectation of not only the athlete, but the parents and coach as well. Unfortunately, high expectations may also increase the amount of stress an athlete experiences, and it has been shown to be related to higher levels of state anxiety (e.g., Jones, Swain, & Cale, 1990; Wiggins & Brustad, 1996).

       With this type of emphasis placed on sports in our society, it is not unusual that the terms burnout and anxiety have become almost synonymous with sports in many cultures across the world. Although there is a rich information on both subjects, only recently have researchers in sport psychology begun to investigate the relationship between burnout and perception of anxiety (Wiggins, Cremades, Lai, Lee, & Erdmann, 2006; Wiggins, Lai, & Deiters, 2005). Thus, it is the general purpose of this study to investigate how positive and negative perceptions of anxiety affect burnout levels in collegiate athletes. In the following review of literature, investigations concerning facilitative and debilitative anxiety perceptions will be discussed, along with a subsection on burnout research.

Anxiety

       A major theoretical model used to investigate anxiety intensity levels associated with performance has been the Multidimensional Anxiety Theory (MAT; Martens, Burton, Vealey, Bump, & Smith, 1990). According to the MAT, anxiety can be separated into a cognitive or psychological reaction, and a somatic or physiological reaction. Cognitive anxiety is defined as the negative expectation and concern an individual has about performing, while somatic anxiety is defined as bodily symptoms or feelings associated with stress, such as nervousness or tension. In addition, cognitive anxiety is theorized to have a negative linear relationship with performance, while somatic anxiety is theorized to have an inverted-u or curvilinear relationship. Within the past 10 to 12 years, investigators have expanded upon the MAT model by including an anxiety direction dimension to go along with the original intensity dimension. Jones and Swain (1992) first introduced the concept of anxiety direction, and operationally defined it as the athlete's facilitative (i.e., positive) and debilitative (i.e., negative) interpretation of the anxiety symptoms related to performance. Past research indicates that the direction of anxiety may be the most important dimension when comparing elite versus non elite performers, with elite athletes having more positive anxiety perceptions (e.g., Jones, Hanton, & Swain, 1994; Jones & Swain, 1995).

       Research investigating state anxiety intensity and direction has demonstrated gender differences, although results have been equivocal. For instance, some researchers have reported gender differences when examining temporal patterns of anxiety and self-confidence (e.g., Jones & Cale, 1989; Jones, Swain, & Cale, 1991). In a study focusing on the frequency of state anxiety (i.e., how often the individual experiences anxiety symptoms prior to a specific competition), Swain and Jones (1993) reported cognitive and somatic state anxiety symptoms increased significantly for both males and females as the competition approached. Females reported higher state somatic anxiety scores than males. Wiggins (1998) reported gender differences investigating anxiety across time, with females reporting higher cognitive anxiety intensity 24 hours prior to competition, but found no anxiety direction differences.

       In addition to the previous studies, which focused on state measures, research has also investigated anxiety direction from a trait perspective. Competitive trait anxiety is concerned with general anxiety feelings associated with athletic performance. It has been defined as perceived anxiety symptoms that predispose someone to interpret circumstances as threatening (Weinberg & Gould, 2003). Examples of research includes investigations on gender differences (Wiggins, 2001), cognitively restructuring anxiety (Hanton & Jones, 1999), and research between athletes with different skill levels (Perry & Williams, 1998; Wiggins, 2000).

Burnout

       In the sport psychology literature, burnout is defined as a psychological, emotional, and physical withdrawal from activities (Vealey, Armstrong, Comar, & Greenleaf, 1998). It may be that an individual withdraws from an activity for a length of time because there is no other perceived way to escape the situation and related stress (e.g., Raedeke, Granzyk, & Warren, 2000; Raedeke & Smith, 2001). Stresses identified as being related to burnout are fear of failure, frustration, high expectations, anxiety, and pressure to perform (Dale & Weinberg, 1990). Characteristics associated with burnout include a physical and emotional exhaustion, negative affect, a lack of perceived accomplishment, a loss of concern or interest in an activity, and depersonalization (Smith, 1986; Weinberg & Gould, 2003). In one specific study investigating anxiety and burnout, Vealey, Udry, Zimmerman, and Soliday (1992) examined the relationship between trait anxiety and coaching burnout among high school and college coaches. Results revealed that trait anxiety was the strongest predictor of burnout, and that actual time spent in coaching and leisure activities, sport type, competition level, and personal status were not related to burnout. Overall, female coaches reported greater levels of burnout than male coaches.

       Because depersonalization is associated with burnout, factors such as encouragement, cooperation, and support from team members may influence the individual's resilience against burnout. These factors (i.e., encouragement, cooperation, and support) are constantly emphasized in team sports that require a task involving the whole team (e.g., passing, scoring). Thus, we have categorized sports such as baseball, basketball and ice hockey under "team sports" and sports such as tennis, golf and track under "individual sports."

       In fact, skill development and performance was predicted by higher perceived social support in team sports rather than individual sports (Alfermann, Lee, & Wuerth, 2005). In addition, past research has shown that greater satisfaction with social support is related to lower burnout levels (Price & Weiss, 2000; Raedeke & Smith, 2004). In a study by Kelley and Gill (1993), results revealed a relationship with greater levels of social support and lower levels of stress appraisal and burnout among NCAA division III teacher-coaches. Thus, athletes participating on team sports may be more likely to perform at optimal levels and less likely to burnout, as opposed to athletes who participate in individual sports.

       Burnout among athletes is equivocal in terms of gender differences. Several studies suggest that female athletes and coaches experience burnout more than male athletes and coaches (Caccese & Mayerberg, 1984; Kelley, Eklund, & Ritter-Taylor, 1999; Lee & Cremades, 2004; Pastore & Judd, 1993), while another study found that male soccer players experienced burnout more than female players (Lai & Wiggins, 2003). The results of the latter study are based on marginal significance, and more research is needed to determine gender differences in burnout. Thus, the purpose of this study was twofold: a) to determine burnout differences in gender and sport type while controlling for athletic experience; b) to determine the relationship between anxiety direction and intensity with burnout, while controlling for gender and sport type (i.e., individual versus team). It was hypothesized that females would display higher levels of burnout as opposed to males, and athletes in individual sports would show higher levels of burnout as opposed to team sport athletes. In addition, it was hypothesized that anxiety direction and intensity would be positively related to burnout while controlling for gender and sport type.

Method

Participants

       A total of 130 NCAA Division I (n = 96) and II (n = 39) athletes in baseball (n = 22), basketball (n = 29), golf (n = 17), ice hockey (n = 40), tennis (n = 9), and track (n = 13) volunteered for the study. Male (n = 56) and female (n = 74) participants were aged 18 to 25 (M = 20.23, SD = 1.39), and were recruited from four different universities in the northeast and southeast of the United States. Volunteers were predominately Caucasian (n = 100), with thirteen African-Americans, four Asians, nine Hispanics, one Native American, and three athletes listing themselves in the "Others" category. School classification of the athletes included 29 Freshmen, 40 Sophomores, 36 Juniors, and 30 Seniors.

Measures

       Overview. Participants were given a demographics questionnaire and two inventories to fill out. The demographics survey asked the respondents to identify their age, sport, gender, NCAA division, year in school, and ethnicity. The first inventory, Competitive Trait Anxiety Inventory-2D (CTAI-2D), was given for the purpose of collecting general anxiety perceptions related to the athlete's respective sport. Athletes also filled out the Athlete Burnout Questionnaire (ABQ; Raedeke & Smith, 2001).

       Anxiety inventory. The CTAI-2D is a combined questionnaire consisting of the trait version of the Competitive State Anxiety Inventory-2 (CSAI-2; Martens et al., 1990), and a direction of anxiety scale (Jones & Swain, 1992). Reliability and concurrent validity has been previously demonstrated by several studies using the CSAI-2 (e.g., Burton, 1988; Martens et al., 1990), as well as the CSAI-2D (e.g., Jones & Hanton, 1996; Perry & Williams, 1998; Wiggins, 1998) and the CTAI-2D (e.g, Jones & Swain, 1995; Perry & Williams, 1998). The CTAI-2D inventory has a total of 27 questions separated into nine items each for cognitive anxiety, somatic anxiety, and self-confidence. The directions ask the respondent to indicate how they "generally felt" prior to competing. To answer the survey, volunteers first identified the intensity level of their anxiety (from 1 = not at all, to 4 = very much), and then identified each perceived symptom as being facilitative (+1 to +3), unimportant (0), or debilitative (-1 to -3) toward performance. Directional subscale scores can range from -27 to +27, with intensity scores ranging from 9 to 36. Thus, a total of 6 subscales are included in the CTAI-2D: Cognitive Anxiety Intensity (CAI), Somatic Anxiety Intensity (SAI), Self-Confidence Intensity (SCI), Cognitive Anxiety Direction (CAD), Somatic Anxiety Direction (SAD), and Self-Confidence Direction (SCD). In this study, internal reliability measures were calculated using Cronbach alpha coefficients for internal consistency. All six CTAI-2D intensity (CAI = .83, SAI = .84, SCI = .87) and direction scales (CAD = .86, SAD = .86, SCD = .90) were at acceptable Cronbach alpha levels.

       Burnout inventory. The ABQ consists of three subscales: Reduced Sense of Accomplishment (RA), Emotional/Physical Exhaustion (E), and Devaluation (D). Directions instruct the respondent to answer the items based on the "degree to which you are experiencing each feeling right now." Each subscale has a cumulative score derived by adding the five items, and can range from 5 to 25. Scores are based on a 1 (almost never) to 5 (almost always) Likert-type scale, with higher scores indicative of feelings associated with perceived burnout. Internal consistency has been reported previously by the ABQ authors as > .70 for the subscales, with test-retest reliability ranging from .86 to .92 on the three scales (Raedeke & Smith, 2001). In this study, internal reliability measures were calculated using Cronbach alpha coefficients for internal consistency. All three ABQ subscales were at acceptable Cronbach alpha levels (RA = .78, E = .91, D = .87).

Procedures

       Head coaches at three Division I and one Division II programs were contacted by the authors, and asked to allow their athletes to participate in a study about anxiety and burnout. After an agreement was made with the coaches, inventories were administered during the first part of each athlete's season (i.e., the first 2 weeks of practice and competition). Although burnout measures have been more robust at the end of the season, it was decided that measures taken at the end of the season would have been more likely to intrude on conference or playoff preparations. Furthermore, the authors' decision to measure burnout at the beginning of the season was based on acquiring a baseline data that could be compared across athletes and sport type. The assumption was that all athletes were at their minimum levels of burnout at the beginning of the season. Along with the surveys, directions were also given on how to handle the confidential and contact information; the questionnaires; and participant consent forms. In most cases, individual athletes completed the demographics questionnaire and the two inventories during a team meeting. Otherwise, they were given to the athletes prior to practice. All information was then returned to the authors sealed in an envelope to help assure anonymity and confidentiality.

Design Analysis

       A one-tailed Pearson Product Moment correlation was conducted to determine relationships among all dependent variables (i.e., 6 CTAI-2D subscales, and 3 ABQ subscales). A 2 (gender) x 2 (sport type) two-way MANCOVA while controlling for athletic experience was conducted to test for significant differences in burnout levels. The dependent variables were the three ABQ subscales (RA, E, and D). Finally, a hierarchical regression analysis with three blocks was conducted to predict each one of burnout subscales (RA, E, and D) from anxiety intensity and direction while controlling for gender, and sport type. Previous studies concerning anxiety have demonstrated that the directional component may be more important than the intensity component when investigating differences in performance (e.g., Hanton & Jones, 1999; Jones, Hanton & Swain, 1994). Therefore, the anxiety direction variable was entered into the hierarchical regression analysis prior to anxiety intensity. Thus, both gender and sport type were entered in the first block, followed by CAD, SAD, and SCD in the second block, and CAI, SAI, and SCI in the third block.

Results

       Several correlations were found to be significant between the CTAI-2D and ABQ subscales (see Table 1). Specifically, CAI and SAI showed a moderate relationship (.56). Strong positive relationships were also observed between the three ABQ subscales. Negative correlations were observed between SCD and the three ABQ subscales, which are indicative of higher burnout scores being associated with lower or more negative self-confidence scores (see Table 1). All correlations for significance were adjusted based on the number of variables and participants (Shavelson, 1988).

Trait Anxiety Table 1

       A 2 (gender) x 2 (sport type) two-way MANCOVA was conducted to test for significant differences in burnout levels while controlling for athletic experience. Results indicated a significant two-way interaction for gender by sport type, F(3, 123) = 4.38, p < .01, Wilks' Lamda = .90, observed power = .87 (see Figure 1). Follow-up ANCOVAs revealed a significant interaction on the RA burnout subscale with females in team sports reporting lower RA levels (M = 10.20 ± 2.66) than females in individual sports (M = 13.61 ± 3). Furthermore, results indicated a significant sport type main effect, F(3, 123) = 8.82, p < .001, Wilks' Lambda = .82, observed power = .99. Follow-up ANCOVAs indicated that athletes in individual sports (i.e., golf, tennis, and track & field) reported significantly higher burnout scores on the RA subscale than athletes in team sports (i.e., baseball, basketball, and hockey). Results also revealed a significant gender main effect, F(3, 123) = 2.76, p = .05, Wilks' Lambda = .93, observed power = .61. Follow-up ANCOVAs indicated that female athletes scored significantly higher than male athletes on the E and D burnout subscales (see Table 2 for descriptive statistics).

Trait Anxiety Figure 1

Trait Anxiety Table 2

       A hierarchical regression analysis with three blocks was conducted to predict each one of burnout subscales (RA, E, and D) from anxiety intensity and direction while controlling for gender, and sport type (see Table 3). Both gender and sport type were entered in the first block, followed by CAD, SAD, and SCD in the second block, and CAI, SAI, and SCI in the third block. In the RA equation, both gender and sport type were significant predictors in the first step explaining 15% of the variance (p < .01). When CAD, SAD and SCD were entered into the equation after the control variables, there was a significant change in R2 with 19% of the variance being explained (p < .01). SCD was a significant predictor of RA (p < .01). With the addition of CAD, SAD, and SCD in step three, there was a significant change in R2 with 6% of the variance being explained (p <.05). CAD and SCI were significant predictors of RA (p < .05).

Trait Anxiety Table 3

       In the E equation, gender was a significant predictor in the first step (p < .01). Both gender and sport type explained 7% of the variance. When CAD, SAD and SCD were entered into the equation after the control variables, there was a significant change in R2 with 8% of the variance being explained (p < .01). SCD was a significant predictor of RA (p < .01). With the addition of CAI, SAI, and SCI in step three, there was not a significant change in R2 with only 1% of the variance being explained. There were no significant predictors of E in the third step.

       In the D equation, gender was a significant predictor in the first step (p < .01). Both gender and sport type explained 7% of the variance. When CAD, SAD and SCD were entered into the equation after the control variables, there was a significant change in R2 with 14% of the variance being explained (p < .01). SCD was a significant predictor of D (p < .001). With the addition of CAI, SAI, and SCI in step three, there was not a significant change in R2 with 1% of the variance being explained. There were no significant predictors of D in the third step.

Discussion

       The purpose of this study was to determine burnout differences in gender, and sport type (i.e., individual versus team), as well as to determine the relationship between anxiety direction and intensity, and the three burnout subscales, while controlling for gender and sport type. Taken together, our results lead us to the following three conclusions. First, athletes in individual sports (i.e., golf, tennis, and track & field) reported greater Reduced Sense of Accomplishment (RA) levels than athletes in team sports (i.e., baseball, basketball, and hockey). Specifically, females in team sports report lower RA (i.e., less burnout) levels than females in individual sports. Second, female athletes scored significantly higher than male athletes on the Exhaustion and Devaluation subscales. Third, Cognitive Anxiety Intensity, Self-Confidence Intensity, and Self-Confidence Direction are predictors of an athlete's level of RA while controlling for gender and sport type, while gender is the only variable found to predict Exhaustion. In the devaluation subscale, both Self-Confidence Intensity and Self-Confidence Direction predict an athlete's level of Devaluation while controlling for gender and sport type.

Hypotheses and Implications

       First, the results of the present study support the hypothesis that athletes in individual sports would show higher levels of burnout as opposed to athletes on team sports. In fact, athletes in individual sports (i.e., golf, tennis, and track & field) reported greater Reduced Sense of Accomplishment levels than athletes on team sports (i.e., baseball, basketball, and hockey). Moreover, females in team sports reported lower Reduced Sense of Accomplishment levels than females in individual sports. Past research has shown that greater satisfaction with social support may be related to less burnout levels (Kelley & Gill, 1993; Price & Weiss, 2000; Raedeke & Smith, 2004). Social support factors such as encouragement and cooperation from team members may influence the individual's resilience against burnout. These factors (i.e., encouragement, cooperation) are constantly emphasized in team sports that require a task involving the whole team (e.g., passing, scoring). Taken together, social support may be emphasized more in team sports than individual sports, which may help to explain our result suggesting that athletes participating in team sports experience lower burnout levels. Contrary to our findings, Vealey and colleagues (1992) reported a lack of relation between sport type and burnout while examining trait anxiety and coaching burnout among high school and college coaches. Their results indicated trait anxiety was the strongest predictor of burnout, while sport type and other factors were not related to burnout. Thus, more research is warranted.

       Second, our results support the hypothesis that females would display higher levels of burnout as opposed to males. In this study, females reported greater levels of Emotional/Physical Exhaustion and Devaluation than males. Our results support past research suggesting that female athletes and coaches experience burnout more than male athletes and coaches (Caccese & Mayerberg, 1984; Lee & Cremades, 2004; Kelley, Eklund, & Ritter-Taylor, 1999; Pastore & Judd, 1993). Our findings are based on NCAA division I and II athletes, while a few other studies have used coaches and athletic administrators as samples in their final results. This suggests that burnout levels are greater among females than males in different positions within the sports realm.

       Third, the results of this study partially support the hypothesis that anxiety direction and intensity would be positively related to burnout while controlling for gender and sport type. In this regard, Self-Confidence Direction is a predictor of an athlete's level of Reduced Sense of Accomplishment, Emotion and Devaluation while controlling for gender and sport type. The negativity of the beta weights in the regression imply that the lower the Self-Confidence direction, the greater the burnout in athletes. Within the intensity subscales, Cognitive Anxiety Intensity and Self-Confidence Intensity were the only variables that improved the accuracy in predicting Reduced Sense of Accomplishment. In the Cognitive Anxiety Intensity subscale, the positive beta weights in the regression analysis imply that the greater the intensity, the more likely athletes are to burnout.

       These results suggest that the intensity of cognitions as well as self-confidence play an important role in the athlete's perception of their Reduced Sense of Accomplishment. However, the directionality of self-confidence is the only factor contributing to the Reduced Sense of Accomplishment, Emotion and Devaluation perception levels. Past research has indicated that the direction of anxiety may be the most important dimension when comparing elite versus non-elite performers, with elite athletes having more positive anxiety perceptions (e.g., Jones et al., 1994; Jones & Swain, 1995). Our results suggest that self-confidence is the only important variable in terms of directionality when explaining burnout.

       Gender was the only control variable found to predict overall burnout in all three subscales (i.e., RA, E, and D). Again, these results support the notion that female athletes and coaches experience burnout more than male athletes and coaches (Caccese & Mayerberg, 1984; Lee & Cremades, 2004; Kelley, Eklund, & Ritter-Taylor, 1999; Pastore & Judd, 1993). In the Emotional/Physical Exhaustion and Devaluation subscale, Self-Confidence Direction was a significant predictor of burnout while controlling for gender and sport type. These results suggest that the directionality of an athlete's self-confidence plays an important role in the athlete's perception of their sport devaluation and exhaustion. Thus, athletes unable to cope with competitive pressures may have a higher risk for burnout if they interpret their self-confidence as debilitative to performance.

Limitations

       Several limitations must be addressed in this study. First, the sample size is relatively small (N=130) considering the number or variables and statistical analysis used, and findings should be discussed in the context of the sample. Second, the specific population was collegiate athletes and it may be difficult to generalize to other populations (e.g., professional, high school). Third, the relatively low levels of diversity (i.e., 100/130 White) may also hinder the generalization of our results to other ethnic groups (e.g., Hispanic, Asian). Last, common method variance is also a possible limitation. In light of these limitations, researchers and practitioners must be cautious when interpreting these findings. These limitations, however, do provide a catalyst for future studies to consider when examining the relationship between anxiety and burnout.

Application and Future Research

       From an applied perspective, implications from this investigation give us two specific considerations when working with athletes similar to those in the present study. First, if an athlete is predisposed to experience higher levels of burnout, working with the athlete to develop psychological skills to increase their self-confidence should help to lower burnout levels. Teaching athletes to view their stress and anxiety as a positive function to sport performance through mental training (i.e., goal-setting, imagery, or thought stopping) should increase self-confidence levels, which should help an athlete cope with the pressures of competition and help to lower burnout levels (Wiggins et al., 2005). Thus, coaches and practitioners should become aware of their athlete's self-confidence levels throughout the season to help alleviate burnout perceptions. Implementation of assessments along with an integrated mental skills program to improve self-confidence intensity and direction levels in athletes is warranted to not only improve performance, but also lower feelings associated with burnout.

       Second, female and individual athletes seem to experience higher levels of burnout related to a Reduced Sense of Accomplishment in their performance. These athletes may do so because of lower self-confidence levels, increased levels of cognitive anxiety intensity, expectations that are too high, or a perfectionist personality that generally finds fault with all performances. Furthermore, female athletes competing in individual sports generally appear to experience higher levels of burnout, possibly because the performance outcome rests solely in their hands. It may be that individual athletes do not have teammates to help lessen the responsibility of performing, which may increase stress related to performance expectations. Female athletes from individual sports may therefore need more training than team female athletes in anxiety coping strategies to handle the stresses of competition, which should also help to reduce or alleviate the higher Reduced Sense of Accomplishment reported in this study. Interventions such as goal-setting can be used to increase confidence, lower anxiety, and help the athlete perceive their anxiety as more positive for performance success, thus increasing a sense of accomplishment (see Hanton & Jones, 1999).

       Future research should consider analyzing data from different athletic populations (e.g., professional, youth sports) as well as from different ethnic groups (e.g., Hispanic, Black). Furthermore, research should include cross-cultural samples and determine if similarities or differences exist across various societies and cultures. This line of research will enhance our knowledge of how burnout, trait anxiety direction and intensity, as well as self-confidence are interrelated, while also further developing a knowledge base to apply psychological interventions across a wider spectrum of athletes.

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Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Dr. J. Gualberto Cremades, School of Human Performance and Leisure Sciences, 11300 Northeast Second Avenue, Barry University, Miami Shores, FL 33161, Tel: 305-899-4846, Fax: 305-899-4809, E-mail: gcremades@mail.barry.edu

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