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

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1 Case study: Ian Braid

As Chief Executive Officer of the British Athletes Commission (2013–17), Ian Braid’s job was to represent and provide impartial advice to elite athletes, particularly if it were felt their rights had been infringed.

Activity 1 Situational influence on coach burnout

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Listen to this interview with Braid from 2018 in which he describes a turning point in his career at the time when athlete welfare and accusations of bullying in a number of Olympic sports surfaced.

  1. Identify three words or phrases he uses to describe his experience.
  2. What explanation does he give for the causes of his stress-related condition? If this is indeed burnout, why might it be different to athlete burnout?
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  1. You may have identified a number of ways in which he describes his experience and it is likely you found three amongst these:

    ‘pressure’, ‘something wrong with me’, ‘don’t know how to relax anymore’, ‘loss of identity’, ‘loss of self-esteem’, ‘loss of confidence’, ‘anxiety, stress and depression’.

  2. His explanation for his condition was that it was ‘all situational’ (i.e. connected to his work context). He reflects that this was ‘to do with the pressure of my job’ and the loneliness of his role. Often leaders or coaches feel very isolated in their job especially if they are not able to confide in others who perhaps understand the challenges they face. The confidential and sensitive nature of his work perhaps made sharing with others particularly problematic.

    It is debatable whether this is a case of burnout: but it is certainly stress and mental health-related. Unlike an athlete who often experiences overtraining or physical stress, Braid experienced mental or emotional stress. This limited physical element (i.e. through training) is a key difference between athlete and coach burnout.

Braid’s account is a reminder that situational factors (i.e. the surrounding work context) can play a major role in burnout. Whilst leadership roles such as his may involve considerable interaction with other people, paradoxically coaches can often suffer from a lack of social support. Always being on show and having to control their emotions is a part of coaching and burnout that you will explore in the next section.