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

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1 Case study: Elinor Barker

I was exhausted and I just didn’t want to ride my bike; in the eight years I’d been riding it was the first time and it was such an alien feeling.

(Barker, 2018)

This was OU student Elinor Barker speaking in 2018, recalling a period five years previously.

Figure 2 Open University student and 2016 Olympic gold medal cyclist, Elinor Barker

In the activity that follows, Barker describes her own personal experience of the early stages of burnout, opening up new avenues for you to explore the causes and symptoms.

Activity 1 Elinor Barker in conversation

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Listen to this radio clip of Barker in conversation with Eleanor Oldroyd (BBC presenter) and Steven Finn (England cricketer) and respond to the following questions.

  1. What were the sources of Barker’s emotional and/or physical stress?
  2. What else did you learn from this clip about contributing factors and recovery from burnout?
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  1. At that time, Barker had recently taken part in her first World Championships, completed her A-levels (including catching up on school work due to being away) and signed for a professional team. This suggests a combination of physical and emotional stress, in particular the cognitive load of juggling three different projects.
  2. You may have mentioned the following contributing factors and felt that the comment about the length of time it took to recover was significant:
    • a.her unease at the new, strange emotions of not wanting to do her sport after eight years of enthusiastic riding
    • b.her comment about how not being on social media much helped her to escape from cycling whilst recovering
    • c.the six months it took her to fully recover
    • d.the comment from Finn about the guilt of not training and teaching yourself to get away from your sport to stay fresh.

This was a revealing and insightful glimpse into the early stages of burnout; had Barker and those around her not responded to these early signs, there could have been serious consequences for her well-being and ultimate success in her sport.

This is why considerable research into the causes of burnout has helped explain it in more detail. It is these explanations that you will turn to next.