By: MMACHS Staff
Payton Bullard, a senior at Meridian Medical Arts Charter High School, stood before an audience of Boise State University coaches and trainers, her mind racing. All day, she had been “freaking out,” anxious to give her senior presentation about athlete burnout at BSU. But now, it was game time.
Payton took a deep breath, smiled, and began to present the findings from the research she had conducted over the past six months for her senior project. As soon as she started introducing herself, Payton realized she was in the zone.
“It turned out really, really great,” Payton explained afterward. “I think the audience at BSU will really turn around and broadcast my message about burnout to other schools across the US. I’m hoping that coaches will step back and realize that athlete burnout is happening and they can help.”
For their senior project at MMACHS, seniors conduct college-level research and present their findings to a real-world audience outside their school. The project is part of MMACHS’ English curriculum, and students can earn college credit to obtain an associate's degree through Idaho State University.
Payton’s process began in the fall, when the seniors wrote a research proposal, focusing on a health-related problem that affects their local community. Payton chose to research athlete burnout because of her personal experiences. After starting her softball career at age 4, she struggled with burnout as a competitive high school player and quit.
“Mental health has such a negative stigma when it comes to sports,” Payton said. “I remember not having the resources I needed when I was playing. It feels like when you’re trying to seek help it affects your playing time. I wanted to bring awareness and provide others with those resources.”
After writing their proposals, Payton and her fellow seniors pitched their ideas to their teachers at MMACHS through an intense “speed-dating” activity. Mr. Justin Marion, a health science teacher at MMACHS, approached Payton after the event. As a former Athletic Director, he had seen first-hand how the pressures of organized sports can lead to burnout, and he told Payton that he’d like to be her faculty mentor.
“Payton's topic intrigued me from the start,” Mr. Marion said. “There are numerous benefits to playing a sport and remaining physically active. Unfortunately, society has placed a huge amount of pressure on athletes, and I do believe this pressure is causing athletes to quit participating in the sport they grew up loving at a highly concerning rate.”
With Mr. Marion’s help, Payton dug into the academic research on athletic burnout using ISU’s databases and created an annotated bibliography with her findings. The next step was conducting primary research. With the help of Margo Hollingsworth, her concurrent-credit statistics instructor at MMACHS, Payton created a survey and distributed it to female college athletes. She received 70 responses and used the data to create an academic poster.
“I found that 94 percent of my respondents had experienced burnout, and many of them were turning to unhealthy outlets. Forty-four percent said they didn’t have access to, or didn’t know about, mental health resources,” she said.
After conducting her research, Payton created a presentation and practiced in front of her classmates during an in-class dress rehearsal. Then came the big moment, when she and Mr. Marion visited BSU’s Sports Performance Health and Wellness Group.
Payton delivered an excellent presentation with an important message, Mr. Marion said.
“Payton took on this project with the passion of someone that wants to make a difference for athletes that may be traveling the same path she did,” he added.
What was the key to her success with the senior project presentation? In addition to choosing a topic that she felt invested in, Payton said she also prepared herself by working hard on her research.
“If you really dive into your secondary research, you’re going to be set. That way when you are up there, you are confident and credible,” Payton explained.
Even though Payton aced her presentation, she still has one more assignment for her senior project. She will write a final essay that proposes a solution to burnout in female collegiate athletes. After graduation, she plans to attend Weber State University and major in public relations.