Perhaps one of the most difficult issues for coaches to deal with is the life our athletes live outside of their sport. On their own time, we have little control or influence over what they experience or do. In planning training, we provide time for rest and recovery based on established guidelines. However, in the real world, true recovery from intense training or competition can be highly variable among individuals. Providing appropriate nutrition, or ensuring they get it at home helps. Encouraging them to get at least 8 hours of sleep also helps. But getting them to avoid significant life stressors is nearly impossible. Emotional stress from family or social problems is mostly out of our control. Money problems, work load from school and so forth all contribute to our athletes stress levels and consequently, their ability to recover from training.
A recent study by Stults-Kolehmainen et al. (2013) investigated the effect of high chronic stress verses low stress in college students on recovery from an intense bout of training. Stress levels were assessed via questionnaires and students were divided into a low stress or high stress group based on the results. The group of students performed an intense resistance training workout and were monitored up to 96 hours post –workout. The authors reported that recovery was delayed by up to several days in the high stress group. They concluded that high levels of perceived emotional stress undermine recuperation of physical function and somatic sensations.
Immune function is also an important consideration when it comes to intense training periods and stress levels (another topic for another day). Not only can recovery from exercise be impaired, but likelihood of illness is increased. The body handles various stressors in a common way. In our student-athletes, stress from school, home, social life and training can all take their toll if not monitored and managed. Perhaps the simplest way to go about tracking this is to regularly collect questionnaires from our athletes. Questionnaires are a valid tool for monitor stress and fatigue throughout training and competitive seasons. Below is a short and simple questionnaire that has been used in research involving high level athletes. Perhaps you want to consider implementing this as a weekly assessment to track stress and fatigue in your athletes?
Stults-Kolehmainen et al. (2013) Chronic psychological stress impairs recovery of muscular function and somatic sensations over a 96 hour period. J Strength Cond Res,Epub Ahead of Print.