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

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4 The drip, drip, drip effect of stress

Most evidence in burnout cases points to prolonged stress – leading to anxiety and, in many cases, disturbed sleep and fatigue – as being a key factor contributing to physical and emotional exhaustion (dimension 1). This prolonged stress is often known as the ‘drip, drip, drip’ effect of stress, as described by Brian Rock (2018), director of training at The Tavistock and Portman NHS trust, specialists in mental health.

A close up of a metal tap, dripping with water.
Figure 4 What has a dripping tap got to do with burnout?

The role of stress in burnout is also supported by leading sport psychologist Daniel Gould as you will see in the next activity.

Activity 5 Sources of stress in tennis

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch the following video of Daniel Gould whose early research into burnout in tennis underpinned some of the investigations that followed.

  1. Identify the three sources of stress Gould describes.
  2. Can you add any further possible sources?

You should watch the first 2 minutes 38 seconds.

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Video 1
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  1. Gould identified three different examples of stress, all of which are covered in detail in later sessions:
    • an internal source of stress – perfectionism, a personality factor that generates a constant stress to be perfect
    • external sources of stress – e.g. that stemming from an over-involved parent
    • physically created stress – related to training and/or poor recovery, e.g. sleep and nutrition.
  2. Other sources of stress might be external sources such as a pushy coach or an organisation that monitors, measures and drives athletes to constantly high performance levels. Gould also makes the point about losing one’s enjoyment for sport – if sport has been your passion since childhood, losing that passion can be deeply unsettling and can be perceived as a source of stress in itself.

Physical stress is created by high training loads and – when severe and coupled with inadequate recovery – is known as overtraining. Overtraining is often a precursor to burnout. You will return to it in more detail in Sessions 3 and 4, such is its importance.