Failure adaptation: Psychological conceptualization of the stress response process in sport

Gershon Tenenbaum, Clive M. Jones, Anastasia Kitsantas, David N. Sac̃ks, James P. Berwick

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Failure adaptation is defined as a state in which an athlete becomes inefficient in managing external and/or internal Stressors. As a consequence, athletes training for and competing in athletic competition fail to meet their designated goals. One category of Stressors relates to the physical intensity, frequency, duration, and recovery period from practice. The overtraining state has been defined as a state that elucidates a physiological outcome resulting in a decrement in performance. The second category of Stressors relates to the failure of utilizing coping strategies, which lead to psychological burnout. Previous research has linked an athlete's unsuccessful stress responses exclusively to the concept of overtraining and has thereby oversimplified the mechanism of failure adaptation. In this article we present an alterative view of failure adaptation responses by systematic consideration of psychological Stressors, which can lead to maladaptive behaviors without the necessary presence of physiological overtraining. The model consists of four major processes from which maladaptive behaviors may manifest and contribute to an athlete's capacity for failed adaptation. Discussed are a broader scope of potential Stressors, the appraisal/perception of these Stressors, the athlete's personal state and disposition, and his or her coping / defense strategies. Together these processes establish a continuum of adaptability ranging from failure to successful adaptation responses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of Sport Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Failure adaptation
  • Overtraining
  • Stress


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