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

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3 Case study: Ellie Simmonds

Ellie Simmonds is a swimmer for Team GB who won eight medals at three Paralympic Games (2008, 2012, 2016).

Described image
Figure 3 Ellie Simmonds

Activity 4 Did Simmonds experience burnout?

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch the video of an interview with Ellie Simmonds at the link below and respond to the two questions that follow. Note that Simmonds came close to retiring from the sport two months after this video was made.

  1. To what extent was Simmonds experiencing burnout with reference to the three dimensions of burnout (emotional and physical exhaustion, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and sport devaluation)?
  2. To what extent are the terms ‘dropout’ and ‘burnout’ related in sport?

Watch the first 1 minute 24 seconds of the video: sport/ disability-sport [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Video transcript

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  1. It is clear that Simmonds displays strong symptoms of sport devaluation (dimension 3) in showing a resentful attitude to her sport as she said ‘I just hated swimming, I hated everything about it’. However, in this video clip there is no evidence of exhaustion (dimension 1) or reduced accomplishment (dimension 2). Therefore, it is difficult to claim Simmonds was experiencing burnout but, by showing one of the symptoms, she might be at risk of burnout.
  2. ‘Dropout’ and ‘burnout’ are often used interchangeably by lay people. However, the sport psychology perspective is that ceasing sport participation is only sometimes an outcome of burnout. For example, Jonathan Trott continued in sport and only retired four years after his burnout experience. Also, there are many other reasons for sport dropout, e.g. injury, non-selection, parental/coach expectations. Therefore, burnout and dropout are not the same phenomena.

Notice how Ellie Simmonds talked about ‘finding herself’, including new identities – independent person, traveller, charity worker – when she went travelling. It is worth keeping this in mind since you will come across this again when you explore the role of identity in burnout later in this course.

At the start of this session Jonathan Trott’s condition was described as ‘stress-related’. In the next section you will explore how accurate such a description is.