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Learning from sport burnout and overtraining
Learning from sport burnout and overtraining

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4 Past caring: depersonalisation

Coaches who are experiencing burnout may stop caring about their sport – but they may also stop caring about people and become cynical about others. But why might this be?

Such depersonalisation has been described by leading psychologist Christina Maslach. She wrote about this in a work context but it applies equally to sport. Depersonalisation, which results in personal detachment, serves as a defence mechanism, as you will learn in the next activity.

Activity 4 Depersonalisation as self-defence

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Listen to this account from Maslach about why people start treating others with cynicism. To what extent have you seen this disconnection with people in your own sporting workplace?

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Maslach’s fascinating observation suggests that depersonalisation and personal detachment are mechanisms through which one can avoid confronting complex feelings and emotions. Cynicism towards others is not unusual in workplaces and is also, sadly, common in sport where coaches treat athletes as objects or commodities. Coaches may avoid dealing with complex difficult situations appropriately in order to protect themselves. This is not often talked about openly but, if you witness someone who is under prolonged stress and who is becoming detached from others, then depersonalisation may be part of the issue. Most organisations now have a welfare officer with whom you should discuss the situation.

Depersonalisation is a further distinct difference between coach and athlete burnout. You will next explore figure skating coach Molly’s own personal account of her burnout where you can see her detachment played out in a real life setting.