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

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1 Individual vs. situational influences

Increased recognition is being given to athlete and coach welfare in elite sport nowadays, including in relation to overtraining and burnout. For example, the Duty of Care Report to UK Government (Grey-Thompson, 2017) reported that:

For those on a high performance pathway life is often unbalanced … The rigour of training and being put under the pressure of achieving targets can affect some more than others. Mental resilience is not something that all participants and coaches automatically have and this should be developed with the same consideration that physical resilience is built.

(Grey-Thompson, 2017, p. 23)

Reports such as this place responsibility on organisations to develop appropriate behaviours and cultures that address welfare, overtraining and burnout. That is, organisations are now being required to create favourable situational conditions for sport. But this does not take into account the influence of individual characteristics on overtraining.

What does the overtraining and burnout research literature say about both individual and situational influences? Christina Maslach is influential in occupational burnout outside of sport; her research was referred to in the development of the Athlete Burnout Questionnaire you saw earlier (Raedeke and Smith, 2001).

In the activity that follows you will look at Maslach’s explanation of internal individual and situational (she calls it ‘organisational’) influences on burnout. This will help provide some context around these factors before you develop your understanding of this theme further in the rest of this session.

Activity 1 Maslach and the false individual–organisation dichotomy

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch the video below and apply Christina Maslach’s job-related ideas to sport overtraining.

To what extent do you agree with her argument for focusing on individuals and organisations?

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Maslach’s argument is that stressors are created by the environment in which people operate; so you need to look at both the individual and the organisation (their situation). For her, a focus on either the situation or the individual is not a useful distinction. Her message is to think more of the ‘big picture’. She wants a positive approach towards helping people thrive in their environments. By framing the problem this way, she claims it is more likely to focus on stress-related prevention rather than cure; this approach may have an impact on a larger group of people than a sole focus on individuals with a chronic condition.

The important point is that both individual and situational characteristics need to be taken into account when evaluating overtraining and burnout. This relationship between the individual and the situation is a consistent theme throughout this session.

You will now study the first of the five insights (or lessons) into overtraining using a personal account of the importance of recovery from Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion.