How Athletes Can Maintain Good Mental Health
Mental health has recently been talked about quite often. It is a topic of interest because that is what drives us to be human. It takes one thing to have consistent good mental health when you do not play sports, but it is more challenging in many aspects when adding a sport into your life. Maintaining a good mental health while playing your sport of interest it the most important thing to do. Typically, when your mental health is good your performance is great, and when your mental health is not as good there tends to be a decrease in performance. Later in this paper, you will read why having a good mental health while playing sports is important, and how having a bad mental health can affect you.
Review of the Literature
Mental health is an essential tool on the field. Having a good state of mind allows for sharper decision making and overall better play. However, having a poor state of mind can lead to slow and sluggish play. This poor state of mind can include a lack of support from teammates, coaches, and parents. It can also be due to mental fatigue and the inability to want to perform at a high level. Another way that poor mental health can affect performance is that they athlete can loss interest. This loss of interest may be the reason why they may quit the sport all together.
Team Sports vs. Individual Sports
Mental health in team sports and individual sports are not alike. It can be shown that participants in individual sports show more depressive symptoms than participants in team sports. Research comparing the prevalence of depressive symptoms among individual and team sport athletes revealed that individual sport athletes are more likely to report depressive symptoms than team sport athletes (Nicholls et al., 2020). This shows that the mental health of athletes in individual sports suffer more than those in team sports. This could be because being surrounded by teammates can lift the moral of the individual bringing them into a more positive mental health state. In an individual sport, all that there is for support is the coach and parents of the athlete. This lack of support system in individual sports can cause a rise in depressive and anxiety symptoms that worsen performance.
Mental fatigue can also lower the mental health state of an athlete. This fatigue ends up hurting the athlete's performance on the field. Mental fatigue can be summarized as the tiredness or lack of energy due to the heavy amount of strain on the brain caused by long practices or a long day at school. Mental fatigue can affect performance because, Mental fatigue impairs cognitive performance, which has been linked to altered executive functions, such as reduced directed attention and less accurate reactions (Sun et al., 2021). This would be detrimental to the athlete. In order to be at peak performance, the athlete should be able to execute all functions and have quick reactions at a moment's notice. The mental fatigue of the athlete would just slow them down and make them less useful on the field.
Depression and Anxiety in Athletes
Depression plays a big role in athletes. Some ways that depression plays a role in athletes is that there is a lack of energy, increased anger levels, strong feelings of worthlessness, weight changes, loss of interest, aches and pains, and reckless behavior (Pearce, 2014). These all have negative impacts of an athlete's performance. The athlete may become fatigued more after doing a simple drill, become angry at themselves for making a small mistake, or complain of full body aches and pains. Those examples will not help out the athlete on the field therefore causing the athlete to become more and more depressed. Depression in athletes can also lead to other problems such as anxiety and eating disorders.
Anxiety also plays a part in the athlete's performance on the field. Anxiety can improve and also decrease performance. The drive theory proves that anxiety can improve performance. This is due to, the more psyched up an athlete becomes, for example, the better that individual performs (Weinberg & Gould, p. 85, 2015). This theory comes with a limitation however, if an athlete becomes too aroused or anxious, the performance can suffer. The performance may suffer due to the athlete's inability to give a hundred percent focus on the game. This may look like if an athlete is getting ready to make a tackle and he starts to notice the outside factors like if it is raining or thoughts about what he is going to do after the game. This slip in focus could make the difference in whether or not he makes the tackle. It comes down to if anxiety leads to an increase in performance due to the drive theory or decrease performance if the athlete has become too overstimulated. This is dependent on the athlete's state of mind during that time.
Loss of Interest
Another impact of a poor mental state on performance is that it can cause a loss of interest. This loss of interest can lead to athletes to quit the sport or take some unnecessary time off if the mental health is addressed properly. There are some factors that play into why these athletes are quitting the sport they used to love. These factors are it is not fun anymore, they are under pressure to perform, and the perceived lack of competence (Fryer, 2015). These negative mindsets allow the athlete to have a poor attitude which leads to a poor performance on the field. The number one reason why elite athlete's dropout is due to the performance pressure set by coaches and parents (Butcher et al., 2002). The mindset of it is not fun anymore makes the athlete believe that they do not want to be out there on the field. This mindset keeps building and building until they ultimately stop playing. Overall, a loss of interest plays an impact on performance levels due to the negative mental health state of athletes.
Implications for the Practitioner
As mental health has growing awareness, there are more and more ways coming out on how to deal with mental health. According to Felgenauer (2021), mental stress can inhibit your ability to perform at all at times, instead, learn strategies for approaching competition with a healthier mindset. Some of the best ways to better deal with mental health is focusing on what you need to do, set realistic goals, and remember why you started the sport you love.
Focusing on What You Need to Do
Yes, we all focus on our game and especially when we are having problems that is what we are mainly focused on. Individuals cannot be focusing though on performing the big shot or the sweet dangle through someone. When an athlete is struggling mentally, they must focus on the small basic things in their sport and make sure they are performing their best in those aspects of their game before making the big play. Felgenauer (2021) states that removing the competition from the equation and focusing on what your body needs to be the best version of yourself. Whether that includes getting better sleep, eating nutritiously, and or injury prevention practice like stretching or rest days.
Setting Realistic Goals
While every athlete wants to become a professional athlete in their specific sport, that is only meant for a select few athletes. Setting realistic goals if extremely important for mental health, as if your only goal is to go pro and be the greatest player ever, you are setting yourself up for failure. Having a list of goals instead of one big end goal will increase your mental health. For example, you can have the end goal be going pro but, before that, set a goal that you will be in the top 5 for scoring on your team, that you will be the hardest working player on your team, and you will play your sport at the collegiate level. Set goals that you can achieve soon, while they are getting you closer to your end goal of being a professional athlete.
Remember Why You Started
As a child all you want to do is play the sport you love and get better at it. When you are young that is when you fall in love with the little things, that is when you make the memories that keep you wanting to move in sports. Felgenauer (2021) notes that burnout from immense pressure from athletes themselves can lead to mental illness. Instead, try to refocus your mindset to highlight why you choose this sport and how far you’ve come since you started.
Mental health within physical activity can either be a major boost or a monumental set back based upon how well the player or players are handling both inside and outside stressors. Within most sports mental IQ can be half the battle when it comes to succeeding. Having proper mental health can help the player make quicker and clearer decisions while having mental health issues can cause the player to react slower to decisions and make decisions that may lead to undesired player performance. These mental health issues can stem from teammates, to coaches, and even parents which can make it difficult for the payer overcome this adversity. Mental health can even affect the players passion that they have for the sport that they play and cause major burnout within the psyche of the player. This is why making sure that players are enjoying the sport they play and to make sure that they receive help for any issues they may have or feel is necessary to tackle early. Mental health issues can severely backtrack a player’s progress so it is important to acknowledge if a player seems a little off and try to help them through their struggles to prevent serious harm to themselves and to others from a lack of play.
Henry Ford Health Staff. Athletes' mental health: How to overcome the pressure of competition. Henry Ford Health - Detroit, MI. https://www.henryford.com/blog/2021/08/athletes-mental-health. Published August 17, 2021. Accessed December 11, 2022.
Nicholls, A. R., Madigan, D. J., Fairs, L. R. W., & Bailey, R. (2020). Mental health and psychological well-being among professional rugby league players from the UK. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, 6(1) doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2019-000711
Sun, H., Soh, K. G., Roslan, S., Wazir, M. R. W. N., Soh, K. L., & Boullosa, D. (2021). Does mental fatigue affect skilled performance in athletes? a systematic review. Plos One, 16(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0258307
Pearce, M. (2014). 'Being there': Sports trainers and depression in athletes. Sport Health, 32(3), 64–65.
Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (6th ed.). Human Kinetics.
Fryer, R. (2015). Why kids quit sport. Anxiety, 19, 01.
Butcher, J., Lindner, K.J., & Johns, D.P. (2002). Withdrawal from competitive youth sport: A retrospective ten-year study. Journal of Sport Behavior, 25(2), 145-163.