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

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1.1 Jonathan Trott: the TV documentary

A review of the TV documentary ‘Jonathan Trott: Burnout’ was published in the British Psychological Society publication The Psychologist in May 2014. In the next activity you will consider the words the author of the review, accredited sport psychologist Darren Britton, used to describe burnout.

Activity 2 Reviewing the TV documentary

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Read the following extract from a review of the TV documentary by Britton (2014). List the main distinctive terms that he uses to characterise burnout within this review.

Hint: there are seven to ten factors in this account depending on how you interpret ‘distinctive’.

… Many quarters of the media came to the conclusion that Trott was suffering from depression …

In an hour-long interview … Trott revealed that he had in fact not been experiencing depression, but ‘burnout’. He had become ‘physically and emotionally spent’, with perceived technical weaknesses in his game causing long-term stress for many weeks leading up to the tour. Trott reported being unable to concentrate on the ball as he batted, and experiencing severe headaches. He had been offered time off to rest, but instead insisted on playing in the one-day series against Australia before the tour. His form merely dropped further, and he spent the remaining time before the tour practising intensely in the nets, giving himself just four days off.

All this begged the question: What is burnout? … it has been described by sports psychologist Dan Gould and colleagues as ‘a physical, emotional and social withdrawal from a formerly enjoyable sport activity’. More importantly, this withdrawal often occurs as a result of chronic stress, so it is fair to categorise burnout as a ‘stress-related condition’. Perfectionism has been found to be a factor, and this certainly rings true from Trott’s account: he responded to his poor form by toiling away for days practising … when he should have been resting.

However, an expert explanation of burn-out was unusually absent … Some journalists claimed that the interview revealed that he had simply ‘cried off’ and ‘given up’, and that he hadn’t been suffering from a ‘stress-related condition’ because he said that he wasn’t experiencing depression … the interview failed to provide any sort of expert view on burnout; perhaps [this] would have given Trott’s account the added legitimacy it required.

Having consulted with psychologists since the tour, Trott now believes ‘balance’ and ‘perspective’ has been the key to his recovery from burnout and his drive to return to the England team. However, this interview was arguably a missed opportunity in raising awareness of … burnout.

(Britton, 2014)
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You may have identified the following seven distinctive factors which characterise burnout:

  1. Exhaustion (physical and emotional)
  2. Chronic stress
  3. Social withdrawal from colleagues
  4. Individual perceives weaknesses in their performance
  5. Individual suffers concentration issues
  6. Perfectionism.

A final item contains four terms which can be captured in one linking phrase:

7–10. A lack of rest, recovery, balance and perspective.

Notice how, in the review, Britton mentions that exhaustion (1) and stress (2) might be mitigated by practices that encourage positive sporting experiences such as rest, recovery, balance and perspective (7–10).

To distinguish burnout from depression, Freudenberger (1983) identified that job burnout initially tends to be connected with the social environment; in this context, the social environment is the sporting workplace. In contrast to burnout, depression is seen to be more pervasive across all aspects of an individual's life. Sadness, guilt, hopelessness and feelings of worthlessness are also considered basic features of depression but are not necessarily observed in burnout (Shirom, 2005).

In the following section you will find out precisely how researchers define burnout.