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

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Session 3: Exploring identity and overtraining


Judge yourself based on the effort and the experience [of the training] not others’ opinions of it. Adopt the mindset of a craftsperson not one of a selfie-stick.

(Magness, 2017)
Described image
Figure 1 What are the implications of athletes solely responding to the question ‘Who am I?’ by saying ‘I’m an athlete’?

The above craftsperson-related tip about preventing burnout talks about identity along with how people judge and push themselves in training. As you saw with the social perspectives of burnout in Session 2, someone with a unidimensional athletic identity may only really value a narrow range of activities (all related to their sport). Therefore, they may struggle with inadequate downtime and recovery. In addition, as any failure potentially threatens their sense of self, to fail is very stressful and may lead to inappropriate behaviours in an effort to preserve their identity. Some might respond by training harder without rest and full recovery (that is, they may overtrain).

Whilst athletes need to place a high physiological stress on themselves, the balance between stress, recovery and overtraining is a fine one. Added to this is the potential anxiety of knowing that performances are often continually being evaluated. A drop in performance sometimes threatens athletic identity and can even lead to a loss of income.

By exploring identity and overtraining in this session you will be able to identify how those driven hard to train can get the balance right. As the quote above suggests, much of it is down to thinking like a craftsperson about long-term learning and progress. Craftspeople do not expect instant results from their practice and perhaps put less pressure on themselves as a result.

By the end of this session, you should be able to:

  • explain how personal identity, self-esteem and feeling trapped in sport all interact and often cause athletes to continue to train hard whilst experiencing burnout
  • define overtraining and overreaching and why the term underrecovery and its symptoms are useful when discussing burnout.