In today’s society, many driven athletes, especially youth athletes, struggle with overtraining and burnout syndrome (Hill, 2018). Overtraining and burnout in sports are the imbalance between exercise and rest. Overtraining gradually leads to burnout and physical and mental performance decline despite intense training. One known for its overloading is college soccer. College soccer has never been more dangerous. Overtraining remains to be the leading cause of sport-related deaths and injuries in this century. Since 2003, over 5000 athletes have been severely injured, and almost 24 college soccer players have died basically from overreaching and chronic fatigue, but not from injuries that left them paralyzed or dead. They have died because they are exercised to the ground in practice and off-season.
According to Hill, 2018, 10% of college soccer players are overworked at any given time. Sure, successful training involves overload, but it should avoid the combination of excessive overload and minimum recovery. 30% of college soccer athletes often feel extremely overwhelmed, with almost 20% mentally exhausted from the extreme overload. One out of four parents of these athletes dream of the spoils of athletic success and are coercing kids from a young age to specialize and perfect their game. The pressures keep growing, gradually affecting their mental and physical performance. Recovery from burnout and overtraining syndrome can last for months or, worse, end any athlete’s promising future (Strand & Samuelson, 2021). Therefore, it is crucial that we immediately address this issue. The primary purpose of this study is to provide a comprehensive analysis of college soccer team causes of burnout and overtraining symptoms and provide rational solutions and interventions to the problem.
Causes of Overtraining and Burnout in College Soccer Team
Overtraining results from poor training and recovery planning leading to too much high-intensity training and too little recovery time combined with training and non-training stressors. According to Hill, 2018 many college students playing sports experience exogenous and endogenous pressures that result in burnout. On-the-field pressure to perform well in every football game is too much stress for any player (Strand & Samuelson, 2021). Coupled with external pressures off the field, a player’s physical and mental performance is guaranteed to decline. Off-the-field sources include parental expectations, academic demands from professors, social demands, traveling to and fro games, and a lack of time to relax (Hill, 2018). Furthermore, as expected, whenever young athletes are asked what they aspire to be in the future, many would respond that they dream of being professional athletes. The hype of sports surrounds young athletes, and we can easily see how this hype drives these young people to go too far in their quest to be great athletes resulting in burnout. They will take training and competing too far, causing burnout and overtraining.
Moreover, the overtraining syndrome is a result of an imbalanced mentality. Research indicates that elite sports like football and soccer are associated with changes in tension, depression, and other mental issues (Alves da Silva et al., 2021). This causes an imbalance in the autonomic nervous system, more precisely, reduced sympathetic activation and parasympathetic domination. In football, these mental issues are a considerable challenge. They are multisystem disorders that potentially harm players’ affective, cognitive, and physical well-being, leading to the feeling of inadequateness or poor concentration levels in practice, forcing players to exert themselves further to meet the performance requirements. Other causes of overtraining and burnout are neglecting recovery, health issues, and poor nutrition.
Impacts of Overtraining and Burnout
Overtraining has many impacts, but their expression varies depending on the player’s physical makeup and the form of exercises undertaken. However, generally the trainee’s physical body and psychology are adversely affected. In fact, football players with overtraining syndrome experience physical and mental issues that dramatically reduce their quality of life and game performance (Alves da Silva et al., 2021). Some of the extensive symptoms of overtraining include difficulty reaching peak conditions; therefore, athletes need extensive recovery, continuous injuries, increased heart rate at rest, decreased strength and power, and decreased technical power. These symptoms result in decreased performance and consistent mistakes in games technics that were once done with ease. Additionally, overtraining and burnout can also cause or increase psychological disorders like anxiety, emotional instability, poor concentration, sleep disorders, and other behavioral disorders (Alves da Silva et al., 2021). Lastly, overtraining results in a poor immune system, making athletes vulnerable to illnesses and infections. An over-trained player is at higher risk of experiencing digestive disorders like anorexia, dizziness, intense and consistent thirst, and migraines. They also often experience constant and/ or acute feelings of fatigue.
Overtraining and burnout in college soccer athletes are conditions that can be easily avoided since their leading root causes (dietary habits, training, and recovery planning) are controlled by athletes and coaches (Nixdorf et al., 2019). Moreover, psychological triggers can be regulated with proper guidance from professionals. As already noted, overtraining outcomes and symptoms vary with each player. Therefore all have different treatment and interventions. One intervention for overtraining and burnout is appropriate programming (intensity, volume, duration, exercise prescription). Overtraining is a result of an imbalance between exercise and rest. Appropriate planning will also ensure a balance between non-training and training activities to avoid exertions and unnecessary pressures that cause overtraining. With proper training planning schedules, athletes can also have adequate time to relax and recover/recharge for elite practices and games. Nevertheless, already affected athletes can have extensive off-periods to rest and recover depending on the type of overtraining they are experiencing. According to Nixdorf et al., 2019, recovery can range from a week up to an entire season, so to avoid such losses, well-balanced schedules must be implemented in every sport. Another intervention is the emphasis on the psychological health of college football athletes. The psychological state of over-trained athletes should be given more attention to avoid mental overtraining. As already noted, overtraining and burnout not only depend on physical exertion but also on mental exertion. Good mental health ensures high concentration levels and morale to play. Therefore, it is vital to recover the mind and recharge the body simultaneously. This can be done by ensuring that over-trained athletes or rather all athletes work with a sport psychologist to help them deal with any mental health issues as effectively as possible to avoid future fallbacks. It can also be achieved though peer-to-peer outreach and teaching programmes to raise awareness of sport-related mental issues and available support facilities.
Moreover, as mentioned above, overtraining also impacts the human body’s well-being and immune system. Therefore, maintaining and conducting proper healthy eating habits is a vital measure that all athletes and coaches need to observe, even if one is not over-trained. According to Nixdorf et al., 2019 healthy dietary habits and regular and adequate hydration are fundamental steps in avoiding and preventing the issue of overtraining. Football athletes use much energy and burn many calories in their day-to-day practices, so their diets should include foods high in carbohydrates, proteins, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. We can also carry out systematic athlete medical examinations using blood and biochemical tests at this phase. These tests play a crucial role in ensuring the best health of athletes by providing a clear picture of the athlete’s deficiencies and early detection of weak spots to supplement them with nutrition. Any athlete experiencing regular overtraining symptoms is advised to consult a health professional. Late diagnosis may result in prolonged recovery periods and, worse, end one’s career.
One major obstacle I would encounter as a practitioner is identifying overtraining and burnout syndromes among football athletes due to their unwillingness to open up about such issues. As already discussed, the overturning syndrome has varying physical and mental symptoms for each athlete. The physical symptoms are more easily identified through observation than the psychological ones. Overloading and burnout greatly affects mental health which cannot be easily be observed unless someone opens up about it. Therefore, there is a huge chance that I would need to differentiate between the short-term fatigue associated with overload training and the chronic fatigue characteristic of overtraining. To get a clear picture of the health of the athletes, I do not only require to look at the training and dietary programs of the athletes but also their mental status. Many athletes are unwilling to be open and honest about their exercises and the toll it takes on their bodies (Alves da Silva et al., 2021). They all want to perform better than the last game, and admitting to this struggle means not being good enough or a chance that they could not be put to play. To overcome this obstacle, I would incorporate regular screening routines for changes in parameters indicative of overtraining and burnout so that I can easily identify short-term fatigue due to overtraining from chronic fatigue from burnout and overtraining. To get the athletes to be more open and honest about their mental and physical well-being, I recommend that all athletes and involved coaches regularly visit the sport psychologist once every week. As a professional, it is our responsibility to ensure the well-being of college athletes to facilitate a bright future. Therefore, regular visits to a psychologist will make them feel more secure and comfortable t share and accepting their weaknesses.
Hill, A. P. (2018). Perfectionism and burnout in junior soccer players: A test of the two × two models of dispositional perfectionism. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 35(1), 18–29. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.35.1.18
Nixdorf, I., Beckmann, J., & Nixdorf, R. (2019). Preventing depression and burnout in youth football. Football Psychology, 337–350. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315268248-26
Alves da Silva, A., Lucas Morais Freire, G., Fernando Vila Nova de Moraes, J., de Souza Fortes, L., Gustavo da Silva Carvalho, R., & Roberto Andrade do Nascimento Junio, J. (2021). Association of Coping Strategies with symptoms of burnout in young football players in a career transition phase: Are professionalization and occurrence of injuries mediating factors? The Sport Psychologist, 35(3), 213–222. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.2020-0031
Strand, B., & Samuelson, J. (2021). Physically and Mentally Exhausted: Overtraining and Burnout in Sports. VAHPERD Journal, 42(1), 13-18.