Success Comes Slowly

Everyone is looking for the "edge," but how can you prevent overtraining and burnout?

Published September 23, 2009 11:38

Success Comes Slowly
Venus Williams

Everyone is looking for the "edge". That something extra that will make you into a champion, a winner of matches, a consistent performer.

  • So, you spend more time on the practice court, hit more balls, go to the gym, lift weights and run.
  • The harder and longer you workout, the better you will perform during matches.
  • Right?.....No, not necessarily.
  • About 10% of athletes will experience staleness & overtraining syndrome.
  • Without adequate recovery and coping mechanisms in place, intensified training can ultimately lead to burnout.

Overtraining or Burnout?
Overtraining Syndrome is a negative response to intense training.
It is a very individual response to cumulative training overload that is not relieved by a couple of days of rest.
Burnout, as the literal meaning of the word suggests, indicates a state of being completely worn out, nothing left to give, emotionally exhausted.
Burnout is like the "end of the line" of overtraining.

  • Luckily, these problems are preventable.
  • Smart athletes monitor their physical, mental and emotional state daily and pay attention to when their bodies and minds feel stressed and overly tired.
  • They understand the value of rest and recovery and know that a balanced training load which includes rest periods produces the best on-court performances.

Take a rest; a field that has rested gives a beautiful crop. -- Ovid

Symptoms to Watch Out For:

Overtraining Syndrome


  • Chronic decrease in performance (a "slump", streak of match losses)
  • This is often the FIRST sign
  • Reaction to chronic stress which often follows period of overtraining
  • Minor illnesses, like colds
  • Emotionally exhausted & drained
  • Feeling tired or exhausted
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loss of sleep / insomnia
  • Not interested in social contact
  • Loss of appetite / weight loss
  • Decreased attention span & concentration
  • Higher than usual early morning resting heart rate (up to 10bpm more)
  • Lack of motivation & drive- don't want to play anymore, contemplate giving it all away
  • Slower recovery of heart rate after exercise
  • Easily angered, feel depressed
  • Loss of speed, strength, agility
  • Poor performance on court
  • Muscle soreness
  • Physically breaking down with injuries & illnesses
  • Mood changes, feeling flat, angry, frustrated, overloaded, stale, no joy or fun in tennis or other activities


Are YOU a Player at Risk?
Players can be at risk of developing overtraining syndrome for a variety of reasons, including:
The younger player is at risk, as he/she has not yet developed effective coping strategies.
The externally driven player has everyone else setting her/his goals and driving her career.

  • She/he probably has loads of talent and may have started out with a BANG.
  • Lack of control and being pushed by others can lead to de-motivation, injury and burnout.

The over motivated player drives her/himself hard and can be quite obsessive about her/his tennis/sport

  • In fact, she/he may have few other interests outside of tennis/sport
  • She/he will set her/his goals very high and put a lot of pressure on her/himself to achieve them.

The player in a slump: Most players who experience a string of losses, respond by increasing their training load.
They do more practice, go & hit some more after a match or add another tournament or cancel a planned week off.

  • This is the worst strategy for dealing with decreased performance on the court.
  • Treatment for overtraining and burnout includes rest, usually at least a few weeks, maybe months.

Seek medical advice if you think you may be suffering from overtraining or burnout


Self Monitor

 Every athlete and coach possesses the ability to detect when a player is not adapting well to training, and is suffering from excess fatigue. Sometimes, this knowledge is like a "gut feeling" that something is not right. The beginning stage of non-adaptive stress can be easily corrected if it is identified early.

  • These warning signs can be simply and quickly checked for at each training session:

Feeling tired

Heavy or sore legs

Slumped posture


Slow reactions on court

Slow or poor decision making

Heavy, slow feet

Low motivation


Lack of confidence

Inadequate or interrupted sleep

Incorrect eating habits

Prevent Overtraining and Burnout
Train Correctly: Regulate the amount of training and periodize your schedule.

  • Have rest days each week and plan the year with regular, short breaks.
  • Avoid heavy training intensity right before matches or during tournaments.

Sleep Well: Get plenty of sleep- a good 7 to 9 hours is recommended for athletes.

  • Good sleep helps with physical, mental and emotional rejuvenation.
  • Adolescent athletes, especially during growth spurts may need 10 or more hours of sleep a night.

Eat Well: A balanced diet with adequate carbohydrate, iron & fluid intake is vital for athletic success.
Time Outs: Schedule a complete break or holiday a couple of times a year.

  • A break from your usual routine and stresses of sports life is very healthy and rejuvenating.

Recover Properly: Active rest and recovery is critically important. It helps you to bounce back after training.

  • Massage, stretching, relaxation techniques, using hot & cold showers and spas will take care of your body& your mind

Keep a Training Diary: Monitor your daily training, matches, sleep (how much and the quality), morning heart rate (before you get up), your mood & your motivation.

  • You will detect any changes and can get medical help earlier with a training dairy.

Keep Stimulated: Avoid boredom by varying your training routine. Keep it fun and challenging.
Practice Mind Power: Learn to manage performance worries.

  • Focusing on past events or future possibilities or irrelevancies is a waste of energy and contributes to fatigue.
  • Learn and use skills such as imagery, relaxation & self-talk to reduce stress and improve performance.

 Sheilagh Anderson

The contents of the Game, Set, Health site, are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice.  The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

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