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Parents & Young Athletes:Overtraining

Phil Johnson has a background in social work and counselling as well as psychology. Trained in systemic family therapy he was amongst the pioneering therapists in the UK and uses the approach in understanding best functioning in families, but also how families and athletes deal with elite performance and the pressures that can be felt by different members of the family.


So what about us... parents they say? Well actually not often, parents seem to be not only relatively silent in their worry, but the forgotten influence within an athlete or player's support team, with few notable exceptions. My recent research clearly demonstrates the crucial role parents play in supporting their sons and daughters, often into their 20's financially as well as emotionally. See My article: Motivation Type and Career Transitions.

Phil is Criminal Records Bureau CRB Checked for several organisations including the FA.


What is it? Is it simply doing too much?

The simple answer is Yes! The more complex answer is Yes but! The simple solution in REST!!! Simple, try asking a young athlete or player to do nothing and see what happens.

The most common response to signifcant falls in performance for an athlete or player is not to rest, but yes try harder with the result of worsened performance, lower self esteem and almost inevitable injury or viral illness due to lowered immune system responses. (PJ)

My awareness of overtraining syndrome has become so heightened as many of the athletes and players being referred to me fall into this category. What is good is that I can diagnose it, the problem is that others involved with the athlete are not! The solution is often in a muli-layer one starting with low self esteem and perfectionism. Not suprising if you have low self esteem and you try to be perfect, then setting yourself up to fail is almost guaranteed! This is where working with the family as a whole is important and few sport psychologists have this training.


Overtraining is an imbalance between stress and adaptability of the body (Siff, 2004) and is revealed by persistent muscular soreness, performance decrease, energy fall, anxiety, depression (Bloomfield, 1995) and many other physiological problems However as an athlete increases training volume, they are more likely to suffer an injury before they get classic signs of overtraining (Bailey, 1996)

Exhaustion is the systematic result of short term imbalance between stress and adaptability, whereas overtraining is the result of imbalance accumulated over a prolonged period (Siff, 2004). In 1956, a scientist by the name Hans Selye developed a theory called the general adaptation syndrome (Philbin, 2004). Selye’s theory showed that overtraining is closely related to an inadequate rate of recovery and adaptation of: the energy systems, cell repair and growth mechanisms, hormonal systems and nervous processes (Siff, 2004).

Overtraining, at early stages, may be recovered rapidly by rest. However as social, economical, mental and environmental stress builds up, alongside physical training, total stress influences the body negatively (Watkins, 1997).

Common Symptoms of Overtraining

Training Symptoms

Early fatigue during workouts Faster heart rate with less effort Decreased strength
Decreased coordination Physical challenges seem too hard
Decreased performance on strength, speed, or endurance testing

Physical Symptoms

Persistent fatigue Persistent muscle soreness Gastrointestinal disturbances
Loss of appetite Increased aches and pains Increase in overuse injuries
Elevated diastolic blood pressure

(The physician and sports medicine - vole 31 - no. 6 - June 2003)

Psychological Symptoms

Difficulty sleeping, Feelings of depression especially tearfulness, Lack of motivation even thoughts of giving up sport,
Fear of competition may be conscious or unconscious, Difficulty concentrating can also lead to short temperedness and even tantrums. Loss of satisfaction and enjoyment not just in sport. Can become withdrawn and subconciously angry.

At times, the symptoms associated with the overtraining syndrome can be severe (Meehan, 2000) and full recovery may take a number of weeks or months (Kuipers and Keizer, 1988). In certain cases, athletes have been unable to continue participating in their sport (Meehan et al., 2000, 2001).

What to do

Email Phil with a general description of the presenting problems and he will contact you to discuss the issue. Support can be given by email, phone or face to face contact.

Workshops are being planned for professional football academies, modern pentathlon and sport scientists. A special programme is to be developed exclusively for parents of elite and developing athletes.

May 2008