Overtraining to burnout

Overtraining is characterized by increased training load compared to the previous training sessions, exercising at the high frequency that is near or at maximum capacity, inadequate recovery periods between the sessions and being psychologically influenced by additional non training stressors. Athletes that experience the state of overtraining for a longer period of time are prone to the burnout.
When the athlete has difficulties to respond to the applied training stress and can not achieve the results as at the previous training sessions, the psychological and physiological state of staleness occurs. Athlete will experience obvious performance decrease symptoms and the psychological symptoms such are mood changes (most often depression).

Burnout presents negative psycho physiological response to the physical activity, most often as a result of the excessive, extreme and frequent training and competition demands. Symptoms of the burnout are low self esteem and confidence, low levels of energy at the training sessions and low response to the training demands and towards the training goals. It’s the unique personal experience and therefore the internal and external factors that influence the athlete’s behavior and response to the training need to be completely understood through the constant communication and feedback reports, as it could be often a cause for the athlete to quit.

The biggest reason for the burnout is of psychological nature. High expectations and high established goals can be very pressuring for the athlete. Due to the unrealistic or ambitious expectations, the athlete can experience that the current level of game, ranking or lack of game improvement can be frustrating comparing to the personal involvement factors such are practice efforts applied or demands of the environment. The motivation factors that are based on the external motivational rewards and expectations from the social environment can eventually lead to the complete psycho psychological burnout of the athlete’s mind and body.

Injury, tiredness, overtrained and inadequate physical development are a few physical factors that can lead to athlete’s burnout. Frustrations as the body can not support the continuous high intensity and high frequency training efforts can be crucial reasons for the performance to decrease and extreme changes in mood to occur. Feelings of tiredness are not only influenced by the constant physical activity, but through the every day life stressors such are school, after school activities, unregulated sleep and rest routines, improper nutrition etc.

Unrealistic demands of the parents and coaches can be the most important social factor that influence the athlete to show lack of interest and motivation for the training and sport in general. Having constant pressure from the environment can create higher expectations compared to the true athlete’s capacity and ability, so the burnout can occur as the athlete’s efforts can not respond to those unrealistic expectations.

Studies have shown that burnout in athletes is related to the lack of motivation in sports engagement, dissatisfaction with self determination psychological needs (autonomy, competence and relatedness), to self- criticism towards possible errors, insecurity and trying to achieve perfectionism.
There are strategies that the coach and athlete should implement in their training program to prevent the accumulation of the negative chronic emotions that could lead to burnout. The training goals should be realistic, reachable and short term. This is the only way for the athlete to be aware about the training progression and they enhance the long term motivation. The athletes need to be involved into the process of creating these goals as through them they are expressing their sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness, which is the foundation of self commitment and self engagement.
Developing self regulation psychological skills like relaxation, imaginary and positive self talk can create the balance between the stressful demands of the training/environment or the competition and the athlete’s response.
Cutting back on training loads and intensity can be a good way of burnout prevention as it gives athlete the time away from the every day physical and psychological stress that the training environment introduces to life.

Cognitive Affective Stress Model
In 1986, Ron Smith developed the four stage model explaining burnout as a predictable process involving three components: physiological, physiological and behavioral. All these components are influenced by the athlete’s level of motivation and personality.
The first stage are situational (training and competition) demands. If the demands are higher compared to the athlete’s capabilities, stress occurs and can lead to the burnout. In the second stage, the athlete interpret and evaluates the situation. The reaction to the situation depends on the individual perception (negative or positive). Depending on the reaction, in the third phase, perception becomes chronic as the negative perception is increasing in time creating the chronic negative changes such are tension, irritability, lethargy and fatigue. The consequence of the third phase is the last phase where there is significant decrease in the performance, fatigue and collision related to the interpersonal relationships between the athlete and the environment.

Athletes are having numerous stressed experiences during their training and competitive cycles as they have long hours of practicing, high physical and mental training demands, performance and outcome pressure during the competition. Measuring the degree of a burnout, it’s perceived frequency and intensity of the feelings of a burnout can be very beneficial for the coaches to understand their athlete’s current physical and psychological state.

Athlete Burnout Questionnaire (ABQ).
The ABQ can be used in measuring the the three burnout-related components: physical/emotional exhaustion, sport devaluation and the sense of personal accomplishment. Every component is covered with five questions, making the questionnaire consists of 15 questions. The ABQ questionnaire is very reliable as an instrument for the burnout management as it is demonstrating high precision in the measurement capability. In the case of the physical/emotional component, the athlete indicates how often is physically and emotionally worn out and exhausted as a result of the demands of training or competition. The items that measure the sport devaluation component are aimed at indicating negative and indifferent attitudes towards sport participation. The items corresponding to the sense of personal accomplishment and performance refers to dissatisfaction with skills and abilities needed or developed for the competition and practice. The lower the score, lower the sense of personal accomplishment.

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