2013. Vol.4, No.9A2, 13-18
Published Online September 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2013.49A2003
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 13
Optimism and Burnout in Competitive Sport
Rosendo Berengüí1, Enrique J. Garcés de los Fayos Ruiz2,
Francisco J. Ortín Montero2*, Ricardo de la Vega Marcos3, José María López Gullón2
1Catholic University San Antonio of Murcia, Murcia, Spain
2University of Murcia, Murcia, Spain
3Autonomus University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Received July 23rd, 2013; revised August 21st, 2013; accepted September 16th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Rosendo Berengüí et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Com-
mons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, pro-
vided the original work is properly cited.
The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship between optimism and burnout in the context of ath-
letic competition. The sample was composed of 227 athletes that competed in wrestling at Spain’s na-
tional level. For the assessment of constructs, the Spanish version by Otero et al. (1998) of the Life Ori-
entation Test (LOT-R) was utilized, as well as the Inventario de Burnout para Deportistas (IBD), which
was an adaptation for athletic populations by Garcés de Los Fayos (1999) of the Maslach Burnout Inven-
tory (MBI) (Maslach & Jackson, 1981). The results demonstrate a relationship between optimism and the
three dimensions of burnout, in which the athletes who are more optimistic demonstrate less emotional
exhaustion, less depersonalization, and a greater perception of personal accomplishment in their athletic
Keywords: Optimism; Burnout; Athletic Competition
Sport psychology studies, apart from other things; interpret
the relationship between psychological variables, performance
and health (Cote, Baker, & Abernethy, 2003; Durand-Bush &
Salmela, 2002; López-López, Jaenes-Sánchez, & Cárdenas-
Vélez, 2013). The study of personality in sport involves an
extensive line of research (Cox, 2009; Vealey, 2002; Weinberg
& Gould, 2010). According to Valdés, (1998), studies are main-
ly oriented in two directions: 1) first analyzing how participa-
tion in sport influences on personality and 2) secondly analyz-
ing the possibility of predicting individual differences and ex-
plain them in terms of personality or personality traits. Studies
of personality and sport also seek age differences or even the
influence of a profile on athletic performance (Ruiz & García,
These two lines of consolidated research in sport psychology
are related to some aspects of the personality such us the im-
portance of optimism and the appearance of burnout syndrome.
These two aspects have been recurrent observed in both, from
athletes and in different professionals working in the sport en-
vironment (De la Vega, Ruiz, Rivera, & Ortín, 2012, García &
Díaz, 2010; Garcés de los Fayos, Ortín, & Carlin, 2010). The
relationship between burnout and optimism has been studied in
contexts such as education (Rothmann & Essenko, 2007), work
(Happell & Koehn, 2011) or health (Sánchez & Méndez, 2007).
However, research studies focused on the context of physical
activity and sport are much more scarce and the available ref-
erences indicate a clear relationship between burnout and op-
timism, as we show later in this paper.
Optimism and Sport
Positive psychology has become a sound paradigm in the
field of applied psychology and psychological research in re-
cent years. The starting point was the address given by Martin
Seligman to initiate his presidency of the American Psycho-
logical Association (Seligman, 1998). This discipline, sup-
ported by scientific research, studies the processes that underlie
the positive emotions and attitudes of human beings as psycho-
logical processes and resources that prevent the manifestation
of mental illness (De la Vega, Ruiz, Bastista, Ortín, & Gies-
Among the most researched constructs within positive psy-
chology is optimism, which has been studied in different con-
texts related to health and performance (Hefferon, 2012; Ma-
ruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, & Oxford, 2000; Rees, Ingledew, &
Hardy, 2005; Remor, Amorós, & Carrobles, 2006).
Optimism has mainly been analyzed from two theoretical
perspectives. Firstly, there is the dispositional theory proposed
by Scheier and Carver (1985), which is focused on the expecta-
tions that subjects have for the events that can happen to them.
In this sense, a person with favorable expectations will increase
his or her effort to achieve a goal (García & Díaz, 2010). For
this model, optimism and pessimism are generalized expecta-
tions, considered to be stable dispositions, or in other words,
traits (Ferrando, Chico, & Tous, 2002).
On the other hand, optimism has been studied from the the-
ory of explanatory style, which was initiated by Abramson,
Seligman and Teasdale in 1978 and has its origins in the most
classic attribution theory (Weiner et al., 1971). The explanatory
styles refer to the way people explain what happens to them
(Isaacowitz, 2005; Shapcott, Bloom, Johnston, Loughead, &
R. BERENGÜÍ ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Delaney, 2007). Thus, one’s customary way of explaining their
own experiences demonstrates an explanatory style that, from a
theoretical point of view, has three fundamental dimensions:
permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization (Abramson et
al., 1978; Seligman, 2004).
The study of optimism as a psychological construct comes as
a response to the reformulation of the Theory of Learned Help-
lessness by Abramson et al. (1978). In the athletic context,
optimism is a construct of personality that acts as a decisive
factor when the athlete finds himself in situations of pressure
(Seligman, 2004), often making a difference between how the
athletes manage adverse situations and face difficulties in simi-
lar situations (Martin-Krumm, Sarrazin, Peterson, & Famose,
2003; Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thornton, & Thornton, 1990).
Seligman et al. (1990) carried out a study with swimmers
that became a reference for numerous subsequent studies (De la
Vega et al., 2012; Ortín, Garcés de los Fayos, Gosálvez, Ortega,
& Olmedilla, 2011). In that study, the athletes were presented
with a situation of defeat under controlled conditions, and the
execution of each athlete in the same situation a few minutes
later was observed. It is noteworthy that the pessimistic swim-
mers had worse results in the second situation. On the other
hand, the optimistic subjects equaled or even improved on the
times from the first situation.
Further, optimism in sport has been studied in relation to
performance (García & Díaz, 2010), the coaches’ assessment of
competition (Ortín, Ortega, López, & Olmedilla, 2012), anxiety
(Martin-Krumm et al., 2003), and confrontation (Holt & Hogg,
2002; Nicholls, Polman, Levy, & Backhouse, 2007).
Burnout and Spo rt
Burnout, is a tridimensional syndrome characterized by Emo-
tional Exhaustion, Depersonalization (Cynicism), and Reduc-
ed Efficacy, continues to be a construct built around the contri-
butions that various researchers have made. Following the work
of Garcés de Los Fayos et al. (2010), we can affirm the follow-
ing as aspects of burnout.
Predictor variables. Many researchers have described these
variables both from a purely investigative perspective as well as
a more applied perspective. At the end, all have been grouped
into three large groups: social-familial, athletic, and personal
Consequences. There are many, from the most worrisome
(dropout; Garcés de Los Fayos, & Cantón, 2007) to others such
as physical problems (illnesses and injuries), dissatisfaction
with the lifestyle that one has, dissatisfaction with one’s role in
relation to sport, unfulfilled expectations, and feelings of isola-
Theoretical models. On the other hand, various theoretical
models have been offered which help us more clearly under-
stand the development of the syndrome. Thus, models such as
that by Smith (1986), based on the one which is utilized to ex-
plain the development of athletic stress; that by Schmidt and
Stein (1991), supported by athletic commitment; that by Coak-
ley (1992), which explains the syndrome through maladaptive
social processes, and that by Garcés de Los Fayos and Cantón
(2007), which is supported in large part by the unification of the
three previous ones and currently allows us to frame this de-
velopment rather precisely.
Epidemiological data. The epidemiological data are very
relevant in the athletic context as they allow us to adequately
contextualize the importance of the syndrome in the athletic
population. Jiménez, Jara and García (1995) found that about
10% of athletes could be affected by burnout, and Tutte (2009)
encountered similar results.
Measurement Instruments. Finally, it is also important to of-
fer a reference about the strategies of evaluation that sport psy-
chologists utilize to assess the presence of burnout in athletes.
From this perspective, in our immediate context, there are two
that are highly utilized: the MBI by Maslach and Jackson
(1981), adapted by Garcés de Los Fayos (1999) and with some
substantial modifications from the items in the original instru-
ment, and the Athlete Burnout Questionnaire (ABQ) by Rae-
deke and Smith (2001), adapted by De Francisco, Arce, An-
drade, Arce and Raedeke (2009).
Optimism and Burnout in Sport
Both burnout and optimism are related to the subject’s per-
sonality. The studies of personality in the athletic context are
numerous (Ruiz & García, 2013). In this sense, there are studies
that try to describe a specific personality profile in athletes of
one sport or another (Bakker, Whiting, & Van Der Drug, 1993;
Cunha et al., 2010), and there are other studies that indicate
individual differences in athletic performance in terms of per-
sonality (Ezquerro, 1997; Reche, Cepero, & Rojas, 2010; Vives
& Garcés de los Fayos, 2002).
There are a limited number of studies that have assessed the
relationship between optimism and burnout in any context.
However, the data from these studies indicate a relationship
been the two concepts, occasionally pointing to optimism as a
protector variable when faced with burnout or some of its asso-
ciated symptoms. Specifically, an inverse relationship between
optimism and emotional exhaustion for workers of various
professions has been found (Happell & Koehn, 2011; Roth-
mann & Essenko, 2007). This same relationship has been found
in the athletic context, such that the athletes with an optimistic
profile are more resistant to both physical and mental exhaus-
tion, which could be explained by lower levels of tension (Gus-
tafsson & Skoog, 2012). Tsai, Chen, and Kee (2007) indicate
that the different strategies of confrontation between optimistic
and pessimistic athletes could be a possible mediator between
optimism and emotional exhaustion. These authors also found a
relationship between optimism and reduced efficacy.
Regarding the relationship between optimism and overall
burnout, Chen, Kee, and Tsai (2008) studied 139 volleyball play-
ers and found that the athletes’ optimism scores were nega-
tively related to the burnout scores. Later, Gustafsson and
Skoog (2012) corroborated these findings in a sample of 217
athletes, when they found an inverse relationship between per-
ceived stress, burnout, and optimism.
The aim of this study was to analyze the relationship be-
tween optimism and pessimism and burnout in competitive
The sample was composed of 227 wrestlers that participated
in the Spanish wrestling championship, 165 males (72.69%)
and 62 females (27.31%). The mean age was 20.16 years, with
a range from 15 to 31 years. A simple sampling was carried out.
It was a wide size population, because the sample included the
R. BERENGÜÍ ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 15
87% of participants in the competition.
Inventario de Burnout para Deportistas (IBD). This instru-
ment is the adaptation of the Maslach Burnout Inventory
(Maslach & Jackson, 1981) by Garcés de Los Fayos (1999) for
athletic populations. It is composed of 26 items, grouped into
three dimensions: Emotional Exhaustion, Depersonalization
(Cynicism), and Reduced Efficacy. A five-point Likert scale
was utilized for responses, from 1 (“I have never felt or thought
this”) to 5 (“I think or feel this daily”). Percentiles greater than
66 in Emotional Exhaustion and Cynicism and below 33 in
Reduced Efficacy would indicate burnout (Garcés de Los Fayos,
2004). The reliability coefficient (Cronbach’s alpha) for each of
the scales was α = .746 for Emotional Exhaustion, α = .757 for
Reduced Efficacy, and α = .757 for Cynicism. As far as validity
is concerned, Garcés de Los Fayos (1999) notes that the MBI is
the most appropriate instrument for burnout measurement, and
after the realized adaptation it shows rates making it a perfectly
applicable inventory to the athletes population.
Life Orientation Test (LOT-R). The Spanish adaptation (Otero et
al., 1998) of the test by Scheier and Carver (1985) in the review
by Scheier, Carver, and Bridges (1994) was utilized. This is
composed of 10 items and utilizes a 5-point Likert scale from 0
(strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). Among the 10 items,
three are written in a positive sense (optimism measure) and
three are written in a negative sense (pessimism measure),
while the final four are fillers. For the interpretation of the test,
the researchers followed different criteria. Some studies con-
template each factor, optimism and pessimism, separately
(Mroczek, Spiro, Aldwin, Ozer, & Bosse, 1993; Myers & Steed,
1999). Other authors (De la Vega et al., 2012; Ortín et al., 2011)
subtract the values obtained for pessimism from the values
obtained for optimism, thereby assuming that the athlete’s ten-
dency is optimism if he or she obtains positive values and pes-
simism is the values are negative. In the present study, the sec-
ond option was utilized. The reliability coefficient (Cron-
bach’s alpha) that was obtained in the optimism scale was α
= .744 and it was α = .718 in the pessimism scale. Respected
to the validity, Ferrando et al. (2002) carry out a psycho-
metric analysis of this test and obtain relatively high validity
coefficients, marking that the actual version of the ques-
tionnaire shows a performance at least equally acceptable as
the original scale.
Permission was granted from the Spanish Federation of As-
sociated Wrestling Styles as well as all of their individual state
member federations before the study took place. The question-
naires were administered during the Spanish Wrestling Cham-
pionship for the categories of Cadet and Senior after the objec-
tives were explained to them. Data collection was carried out
before the athletes’ medical exams and weigh-in. Information
about the study was provided to the athletes and any questions
Various statistical analyses were utilized: specifically, stan-
dard statistical methods to calculate means and standard devia-
tion (SD), analysis of correlation (Pearson’s coefficient) to
observe the average variation between the scores of the scales
from the IBD and LOT-R, and Student t-test for independent
samples for assessing the differences between the various
groups. Grouping was done to analyze the differences in aver-
age optimism and pessimism for subjects with low and high
scores in the scales of the IBD. For that, a standard deviation
was either subtracted (for the low group) or added (for the high
group) to the scale’s mean. Therefore, to obtain the optimis-
tic-pessimistic tendency of the athlete, the criteria of Ortín et al.
(2011) were followed, in which the values obtained by the par-
ticipant in pessimism were subtracted from the values obtained
in optimism. Thus, when positive values were obtained, an op-
timistic tendency was assumed, and when negative values were
obtained, a pessimistic tendency was assumed. For all cases,
statistical significance was set at 5% (p ≤ .05), and the analysis
of the data was done with the SPSS program (version 15.0,
SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA).
Table 1 demonstrates the descriptive data from each scale of
the IBD and the LOT-R for the total samples. It should be
pointed out that 84 athletes, 37% of the total, presented some of
the characteristics of burnout proposed by Garcés de Los Fayos
(1999); that is, higher than 66% in Emotional Exhaustion and
Depersonalization and below 33% in Reduced Efficacy. Spe-
cifically, 13 subjects had values above 66% for Emotional Ex-
haustion, 15 subjects had values above 66% for Depersonaliza-
tion, and 27 had values above 66% for Reduced Efficacy.
Eleven percent (25 subjects) had high scores on two scales, and
18 of those subjects had their high scores in Emotional Exhaus-
tion and Depersonalization. Four subjects (1.76% of the sample)
scored high on all three scales.
Regarding the distinction between optimistic and pessimistic
athletes, the pessimistic athletes represented 19.82% of the
sample (or 45 subjects), and they were characterized by scoring
negatively when subtracting their Optimism score from their
After grouping the subjects who scored low and high in the
various scales of the Inventario de Burnout en Deportistas from
the addition or subtraction of a standard deviation from the
scale’s mean, results that indicate various differences between
these groups were obtained. Thus, the athletes with low scores
in Emotional Exhaustion (n = 38) had significantly different
scores from those athletes in the high-scoring group (n = 33)
(Table 2); specifically, they have higher means in Optimism
(t69 = 3.565; p = .001) and Tendency toward optimism (t69 =
3.732; p = .000). The differences are partially significant for
IBD and LOT-R results.
Minimum Maximum Mean SD
Emotional Exhaustion 7 30 17.094.917
Depersonalization 10 36 18.876.556
Reduced Efficacy 10 40 27.336.562
Optimism 0 12 8.00 2.652
Pessimism 0 11 4.97 2.636
Tendency toward Optimism−6 12 3.03 3.930
R. BERENGÜÍ ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Differences in groups scoring low and high for emotional exhaustion.
Low (n = 38) High (n = 33)
Mean SD Mean SD
t (df = 69)
Optimism 9.29 3.013 6.94 2.461 3.565**
Pessimism 4.39 2.595 5.48 2.360 −1.841
toward Optimism 4.89 3.951 1.45 3.784 3.732**
**p < .01.
Pessimism (t69 = −1.841; p = .070), where the high-scoring
group’s subjects obtained higher scores for Emotional Exhaus-
After carrying out an identical analysis with the Depersonal-
ization scale (Table 3), differences can be observed in the three
elements from the LOT-R. This includes greater Optimism (t80
= 2.054; p = .044) and Tendency toward optimism (t80 = 3.708;
p = .000) for athletes in the group of low Depersonalization (n
= 42) while the subjects in the high-scoring group (n = 40) had
a higher mean (6.05) in Pessimism (t80 = 3.708; p = .000).
For Reduced Efficacy, Table 4 presents the descriptive vari-
ables for the groups and the differences that were found. Con-
trary to the Emotional Exhaustion sub-scale, the athletes with
low scores in Reduced Efficacy (n = 35) scored significantly
differently from those with high scores (n = 39), and they re-
corded lower mean scores for Optimism (t72 = −4.926; p = .000)
and Tendency toward optimism (t72 = −4.502; p = .000).
Finally, a comparison between athletes with an optimistic
tendency (positive values; n = 182) and those with a pessimistic
tendency (negative values; n = 45) is demonstrated in Table 5.
The wrestlers with a tendency toward optimism had lower
mean scores for Emotional Exhaustion (16.70) and Deperson-
alization (18.47), and they had higher means for Reduced Effi-
cacy (28.02). There are statistically significant differences be-
tween the two groups for Emotional Exhaustion (t225 = 2.424; p
= .016) and Reduced Efficacy (t225 = −3.233; p = .001), and the
differences in Depersonalization (t225 = 1.883; p = .061) were
Competitive sport occasionally involves stressful situations
for the athletes (Ortín et al., 2011). Monitoring these situations
and some strategies for suitable confrontation are two of the
most important aspects for performance (García & Díaz, 2010).
The aim of this study is to analyze the relationship between
optimistic and pessimistic profiles and the various dimensions
that compose the syndrome of burnout: emotional exhaustion,
depersonalization (or cynicism), and reduced efficacy.
The results indicate that 37% of the athletes have an un-
healthy level of some of the three dimensions of burnout. Re-
garding optimism and pessimism, 80.18% have at least a ten-
dency toward optimism, which has been found in other studies
when this construct has been studied in performance sport
(Gordon, 2008; Norlander & Archer, 2002; Wilson, Raglin, &
Regarding the relationship between optimism and burnout,
the results to be highlighted are the following. On one hand, the
optimistic athletes demonstrate less emotional exhaustion. This
Differences in groups scoring low and high for Depersonalization.
Low (n = 42) High (n = 40)
Mean SD Mean SD
t (df = 80)
Optimism 8.67 3.175 7.43 2.2412.054*
Pessimism 4.02 2.571 6.05 2.438−3.658**
toward Optimism4.64 4.077 1.38 3.8943.708**
*p < .05; **p < .01.
Differences in groups scoring low and high for Reduced Efficacy.
Low (n = 35) High (n = 39)
Mean SD Mean SD
t (df = 72)
Optimism 6.91 3.033 9.74 1.817−4.926**
Pessimism 5.49 2.582 4.51 2.7711.557
toward Optimism1.43 3.509 5.23 3.731−4.502**
**p < .01.
Differences between pessimists and optimists in IBD.
Pessimist (n = 45) Optimist (n = 182)
Mean SD Mean SD
t (df = 225)
Emotional Exhaustion18.67 5.018 16.70 4.8272.424*
Depersonalization 20.51 6.717 18.47 6.4701.883
Reduced Efficacy 24.56 5.941 28.02 6.542 −3.233**
*p < .05; **p < .01.
aspect is the one that has been most reflected in the scientific
literature in various contexts (Gustafsson & Skoog, 2012;
Happell & Koehn 2011; Rothmann & Essenko, 2007). In rela-
tion to depersonalization, the data are similar, such that the
most optimistic athletes demonstrate lower scores for this di-
mension. Finally, for reduced efficacy, the data again demon-
strate a possible healthy effect of optimism, like the optimistic
subjects have a higher score in this dimension. The results are
similar if the results are analyzed by utilizing the dimensions of
burnout as a reference as well as when using the optimist-pes-
simist profile as a reference.
The scientific literature indicates that optimism favors health.
Studies indicate that, among other aspects, optimism can reduce
the physical symptoms of illnesses and improves strategies of
confrontation (Scheier & Carver, 1985), it favors a more com-
plete and flexible cognitive process (Aspinwall, Richter, &
Hoffman, 2001), and it helps the person to evaluate the present
and look for better opportunities in the future (Schneider, 2001).
Along these lines, if burnout is considered a clinical syndrome
that affects the subject’s health, the analysis of the relationship
between the two constructs may be relevant in any context.
R. BERENGÜÍ ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 17
Thus, psychological interventions may be beneficial in help-
ing athletes learn strategies to gain optimism. Some interven-
tion programs have found positive results along these lines
(Sánchez & Méndez, 2007). Among the aspects that should be
highlighted from the interventions is the work done on ex-
planatory style and attributes in Seligman’s theoretical line
(Sanjuán et al., 2008). The work on optimism may act as a pro-
tector when presented with psychological problems such as the
appearance of burnout.
Working on these psychological variables can be done by
several professionals working with the athlete. Keeping in mind
the importance of the coach, the education of the coach regard-
ing the handling of optimistic messages, a suitable reinforce-
ment, and correct attributions may positively affect the athletes.
Seligman (2004) upholds the existence of optimistic and pessi-
mistic teams strongly affected by the leadership style of the
coaches. The explanatory style of a coach may affect the analy-
sis of the results, and in this way influence the feedback that is
given to the athletes (Ortín et al., 2012).
Optimism and the prevention of burnout are two aspects that
can be learned. In the area of research, there are also validated
tests that are specific for each construct. In the present study,
the two that are most utilized in the athletic context according
to the bibliometric study by Ortín, Marín and Garcés de los
Fayos (2012) were used.
Is important to note some limitations of our study, in order to
guide future research on optimism and burnout. First at all, it
should be marked that this study has been done with a sample
in a particular sport. In this sense, it may be interesting to carry
out a similar analysis in other sports, including both individual
and team sports. On the other hand, although we can observe
some statistically significant data in certain burnout scales, it
could be relevant to investigate what has produced these results,
analyzing the influence of people surrounding the athlete like
the coach and the family. Analyzing these causes will favor the
possibility to create prevention and intervention programs on
burnout and promoting optimism in the context of physical
activity and sport.
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