Thinking About Elite Performance: The Experience and Impact of Mental Fatigue in Elite Sport Coaching

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Suzanna Russell Sports Performance, Recovery, Injury and New Technologies (SPRINT) Research Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Sport, Performance, Innovation and Knowledge Excellence, Queensland Academy of Sport, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

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Shona L. Halson Sports Performance, Recovery, Injury and New Technologies (SPRINT) Research Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

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David G. Jenkins School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
School of Health and Sport Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
Applied Sports Science Technology and Medicine Research Centre, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom

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Steven B. Rynne School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences, University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

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Bart Roelands Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy, Department of Human Physiology and Sports Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium
Brussels Human Robotics Research Center (Brubotics), Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium

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Vincent G. Kelly School of Exercise & Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

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Purpose: Mental fatigue causes decreases in aspects of athletes’ performance. Elite coaches commonly undertake cognitively demanding tasks and are seemingly at similar risk of subsequent performance impairment. However, elite sport coaches’ experiences of mental fatigue, alongside other markers of psychobiological stress, have yet to be quantified. Methods: Three elite coaching and performance staff (2 women and 1 man) provided 100-mm visual analog scale ratings of mental fatigue, physical fatigue, readiness to perform, and salivary samples for later cortisol (sCort) and alpha-amylase (sAA) analysis. Data were obtained on the same morning each week across a 16-week preseason. Data were subset by individual coach for descriptive and repeated-measures correlational analyses. Results: Fluctuating mental fatigue was observed over the 16 weeks (min–max; coach 1 = 25–86 AU; coach 2 = 0–51 AU; and coach 3 = 15 − 76 AU). Elevated levels of mental fatigue were reported at multiple time points, with individual variability observed. sCort (in nanomoles per liter), sAA (in micromoles per liter), and sAA:sCort indicated that coaches experienced psychophysiological stress (min–max; coach 1 sCort = 8.42–17.31, sAA = 52.40–113.06, sAA:sCort = 3.20–12.80; coach 2 sCort = 4.20–9.70, sAA = 158.80–307.20, sAA:sCort = 21.10–61.70; and coach 3 sCort = 6.81−19.66, sAA = 86.55–495.85, sAA:sCort = 4.90–35.50). A significant inverse relationship between mental fatigue and readiness to perform (r = −.44 [−.64 to −.17], P = .002) was identified. Conclusions: Elite sport coaches report elevated instances of mental fatigue during a preseason training period. Those involved in elite sports should act to understand the presence and potential subsequent impacts of staff mental fatigue and consider management or mitigation strategies. Optimization of the cognitive performance of coaches and performance staff presents as a potential source of competitive advantage.

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