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Prevalence of Nonfunctional Overreaching/Overtraining in Young English Athletes


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2011 - Volume 43 - Issue 7 - p 1287-1294
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318207f87b
Applied Sciences

Purpose: Nonfunctional overreaching and overtraining (NFOR/OT) in adults can lead to significant decrements in performance, combined with physical and psychological health problems. Little is known about this condition in young athletes by comparison; thus, the aim of the study was to assess the incidence and symptomatology of NFOR/OT in young English athletes.

Methods: Three hundred seventy-six athletes (131 girls and 245 boys, age = 15.1 ± 2.0 yr) completed a 92-item survey about NFOR/OT. The sample included athletes competing at club to international standards across 19 different sports. Athletes were classified as NFOR/OT if they reported persistent daily fatigue and a significant decrement in performance that lasted for long periods of time (i.e., weeks to months). Data were analyzed using the Mann-Whitney U and the Kolmogorov-Smirnov nonparametric tests. Significant predictors of NFOR/OT were identified using logistic regression analysis.

Results: One hundred ten athletes (29%) reported having been NFOR/OT at least once. The incidence was significantly higher in individual sports (P < 0.01), low-physical demand sports (P < 0.01), females (P < 0.01), and at the elite level (P < 0.01). Training load was not a significant predictor of NFOR/OT; however, competitive level and gender accounted for a small (4.7% and 1.7%, respectively) but significant explanatory variance of NFOR/OT (P < 0.05).

Conclusions: Approximately one-third of young athletes have experienced NFOR/OT, making this an issue for parents and coaches to recognize. OT is not solely a training load-related problem with both physical and psychosocial factors identified as important contributors.

Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre, Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Craig A. Williams, Ph.D., Children's Health and Exercise Research Centre, Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2010.

Accepted for publication November 2010.

© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine