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

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.
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:

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 One16(10).

Pearce, M. (2014). ‘Being there’: Sports trainers and depression in athletes. Sport Health32(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. Anxiety19, 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.