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Game Changer: How Mental Health Impacts Athletic Performance

When it comes to sports, physical health is typically prioritized over mental health. While physical health is undoubtedly important for athletes, mental health is just as critical and should not be overlooked. In fact, mental health can have a profound impact on an athlete's performance, and failing to address mental health concerns can hinder their ability to reach their full potential. In this blog post, we'll discuss the importance of considering mental health in addition to physical health for athletes, both recreation and elite level, and how it can impact their performance. This post is intended for parents of young athletes and the athletes themselves, as it is essential to understand and prioritize mental health to achieve success both on and off the field.


The Connection Between Mental Health and Athletic Performance


While it's common for athletes and parents to prioritize physical health, mental health is just as important for athletes. The mind-body connection is strong, and mental health issues can have a profound impact on an athlete's performance, overall well-being, and quality of life. Without addressing mental health concerns, athletes may struggle to perform at their best, and they may also experience burnout, stress, and other negative consequences. Therefore, it's essential for parents and athletes to prioritize mental health and recognize that it's just as important as physical health. By taking care of both their physical and mental health, athletes can achieve success on and off the field.


Mental health can have a significant impact on an athlete's performance, and there is ample scientific evidence to support this idea. Anxiety, depression, burnout, and chronic stress are just a few examples of mental health issues that can negatively affect an athlete's performance. Athletes who prioritize their mental health and seek treatment when necessary are more likely to perform at their best, as well as enjoy greater well-being and resilience.

  1. Anxiety: Anxiety is a common mental health issue that can affect athletes, and it has been shown to have a negative impact on performance. Research has found that athletes with high levels of anxiety tend to perform worse in competition, and they may also have difficulty with concentration, decision-making, and motor control (Hanton et al., 2005; Woodman & Hardy, 2003).

  2. Depression: Depression is another mental health issue that can affect athletes and has been linked to decreased performance. A study of college athletes found that those who reported symptoms of depression had worse athletic performance, as measured by their coaches, compared to their non-depressed peers (Wolanin et al., 2016).

  3. Burnout: Burnout is a psychological syndrome that can occur in athletes and is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment. Burnout has been associated with decreased performance, as well as increased injury risk (Gustafsson et al., 2018).

  4. Stress: Chronic stress can also have negative effects on athletic performance. High levels of stress can lead to decreased motivation, increased fatigue, and impaired decision-making abilities, all of which can impact an athlete's performance (Fletcher & Hanton, 2001).

Overall, there is strong evidence to support the idea that mental health is a critical component of athletic performance. By addressing mental health concerns, athletes can improve their performance, resilience, and overall well-being.



`Physical health can impact mental health: There is a growing body of research demonstrating that physical health can have a significant impact on mental health. For example, regular exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on mood, anxiety, and overall well-being (Craft & Perna, 2004). Conversely, physical health problems such as injury or illness can lead to stress, depression, and other mental health issues (Penedo & Dahn, 2005).


Mental health can impact physical health: In addition to physical health influencing mental health, the reverse is also true. Mental health issues can impact physical health, as stress, anxiety, and depression can all have negative effects on the body. For example, chronic stress can lead to increased inflammation, which has been linked to a range of health problems (Epel et al., 2004). Mental health issues can also impact sleep, appetite, and energy levels, which can all impact physical health.


Addressing mental health can improve physical performance: By prioritizing mental health and addressing mental health concerns, youth athletes can improve their physical performance. This is because mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and burnout can all negatively impact athletic performance, as discussed in the previous section. By addressing these issues and promoting good mental health practices such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, athletes can better manage their mental and physical health.


Promoting overall well-being: Finally, by recognizing the interconnection between mental and physical health, athletes and their parents can promote overall well-being. This means encouraging good physical health practices such as exercise and healthy eating, as well as prioritizing mental health practices such as therapy, meditation, and self-care.


The Benefits of Prioritizing Mental Health for Athletic Performance


Addressing mental health concerns is an important part of promoting optimal performance for athletes. By prioritizing mental health, athletes can not only improve their overall well-being, but also enhance their performance on the field. When mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or burnout go unaddressed, they can negatively impact an athlete's training and competition outcomes. These issues can lead to decreased motivation, difficulty concentrating, and decreased confidence. By addressing these concerns through therapy, mindfulness, and self-care practices, athletes can better manage their mental health and improve their performance. When athletes prioritize their mental health, they can improve their focus, motivation, and confidence, leading to better outcomes in training and competition. Prioritizing mental health can help athletes build resilience and better cope with setbacks and adversity. When athletes face challenges such as injuries, losses, or other setbacks, they may experience negative emotions such as frustration, disappointment, or anxiety. These emotions can lead to a cycle of negative thinking that can hinder an athlete's ability to perform at their best. By prioritizing mental health, athletes can develop coping skills and strategies that help them manage these emotions and stay focused on their goals. This can lead to increased resilience, which can help athletes bounce back from setbacks and stay motivated to continue their training and competition. Additionally, prioritizing mental health can help athletes build a stronger sense of self and develop a positive self-image, which can be an important factor in building resilience. Ultimately, by prioritizing mental health, athletes can better cope with adversity and build the mental fortitude needed to succeed in their sport and in life.


Prioritizing mental health is a crucial step towards enhancing overall well-being for athletes, both on and off the field. According to a study by Putukian et al. (2019), mental health should be considered a vital part of an athlete's overall health and well-being. When athletes place mental health at the forefront of their training, they can develop healthy habits and coping strategies to manage stress, negative emotions, and other mental health concerns. By prioritizing mental health, athletes can enhance their quality of life and achieve a greater sense of balance and fulfillment in their sport and personal lives. This includes improving relationships with family, friends, and teammates, as well as better physical recovery and improved sleep patterns. Additionally, prioritizing mental health can lead to a stronger sense of self-worth and purpose in life, helping athletes feel more fulfilled and satisfied overall.


Tips For Athletes and Parents to Prioritize Mental Health


As we have discussed in previous sections, prioritizing mental health is essential for athletes to achieve optimal performance and overall well-being. Managing stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns can be challenging for athletes, but there are several strategies that they can use to promote their mental well-being. In this section, we will discuss five strategies that athletes can use to manage stress, anxiety, and other mental health concerns. These strategies include mindfulness, building strong relationships, getting enough sleep, incorporating self-care, and seeking professional help. By implementing these strategies, athletes can improve their mental health and achieve a greater sense of balance and fulfillment in their sport and personal lives.


As parents, we want to do everything we can to support our children's physical and mental health. For young athletes, managing stress and anxiety can be especially important for maintaining their overall well-being and athletic performance. By creating a positive, low-stress environment at home, parents can help their children develop healthy habits and coping mechanisms. Here are five strategies parents can use to support their child's mental health and well-being, based on research by Griffiths and colleagues (2018) and other experts in the field.

  1. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation, can help athletes manage stress and improve mental clarity. They can also help athletes stay focused on their goals and manage their emotions.

  2. Connect with others: Building strong relationships with family, friends, and teammates can provide a support system for athletes during times of stress and adversity. Talking to someone about mental health concerns can help alleviate negative feelings and promote overall well-being.

  3. Get enough sleep: Adequate sleep is essential for physical recovery and overall well-being. Athletes should aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to help reduce stress and improve performance.

  4. Incorporate self-care: Engaging in activities such as yoga, taking a bath, or practicing a hobby can promote relaxation and reduce stress. Athletes should prioritize self-care activities in their routine to help manage mental health concerns.

  5. Seek professional help: If an athlete is struggling with mental health concerns, seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor can provide a safe and confidential space to talk through these concerns and develop coping strategies. This can be an important step towards overall mental well-being.

  6. Encourage open communication: Creating a safe space for your child to talk about their feelings and concerns can promote healthy communication and help them manage stress. Encouraging your child to share their thoughts and feelings with you can help you identify potential sources of stress and offer support.

  7. Promote healthy lifestyle habits: Encouraging your child to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep, and engage in physical activity can promote overall well-being and reduce stress.

  8. Manage expectations: Setting realistic expectations and goals for your child can help reduce stress and pressure. Encouraging your child to focus on effort and improvement, rather than winning or performance, can help them develop a growth mindset and reduce anxiety.

  9. Foster positive relationships: Building strong relationships with family, friends, and coaches can provide a support system for your child and promote overall well-being.

  10. Encourage positive self-talk: Helping your child develop positive self-talk can improve their self-esteem and reduce stress. Encouraging your child to use phrases such as "I can do this" and "I am strong" can promote a positive mindset and reduce anxiety.

One source to support these suggestions is a study by Griffiths and colleagues (2018) which found that a supportive family environment and positive parent-child relationships can promote mental well-being in young athletes.


While there are many strategies athletes can use to manage their mental health, it's important to acknowledge that sometimes professional help may be necessary. Mental health professionals can provide athletes with the tools and resources they need to address underlying issues and develop effective coping mechanisms. This can not only improve an athlete's mental health, but also enhance their overall performance and quality of life. Seeking professional help is a proactive step towards prioritizing one's mental health and well-being, and should not be seen as a sign of weakness. Just as athletes seek out coaches and trainers to improve their physical performance, seeking out a mental health professional can help them optimize their mental performance.


Mental health is a crucial component of overall well-being and athletic performance. By prioritizing their mental health, athletes can develop the skills and strategies they need to manage stress, anxiety, and other challenges they may face on and off the field. This includes seeking professional help when necessary, as well as utilizing a variety of strategies to manage their mental health, such as mindfulness, positive self-talk, and regular exercise. As parents and athletes, it's important to recognize that mental health and physical health are interconnected, and to make mental health a priority for long-term success and well-being. By incorporating these strategies and tools into their routines, athletes can not only improve their athletic performance, but also live happier, healthier lives overall.

In today's fast-paced, high-pressure world of athletics, it can be easy to prioritize physical health at the expense of mental health. However, as we've discussed, mental health is just as important as physical health when it comes to achieving optimal athletic performance and overall well-being. By prioritizing mental health, athletes can learn how to manage stress and anxiety, build resilience, and cultivate a positive, low-stress environment that supports their growth and success. Parents and athletes can work together to create a culture of mental health awareness, in which seeking help and taking care of one's mental health is seen as a sign of strength and resilience.


Prioritizing mental health is essential for athletes to achieve their goals and enjoy long-term success. While the strategies we've discussed in this post can be a great starting point for improving mental health and performance, there are many additional resources available to athletes and parents looking to learn more. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) offer valuable information and resources on mental health and how it relates to sports. Additionally, many sports organizations and professional athletes are speaking out about the importance of mental health, and sharing their own stories and strategies for managing mental health challenges. By taking advantage of these resources and learning more about mental health and sports, athletes and parents can take an important step towards creating a culture of mental health awareness and support in the world of athletics.


Craft, L. L., & Perna, F. M. (2004). The benefits of exercise for the clinically depressed. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(3), 104-111.


Epel, E. S., McEwen, B., Seeman, T., Matthews, K., Castellazzo, G., Brownell, K. D., ... & Ickovics, J. R. (2004). Stress and body shape: stress-induced cortisol secretion is consistently greater among women with central fat. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(3), 476-482.


Griffiths, L. J., McConnell, A. K., Zieff, G. H., & Kai, J. (2018). Parental influence on children's physical activity and screen time. Journal of Child Health Care, 22(4), 530–542. https://doi.org/10.1177/1367493518783084


Gustafsson, H., Kenttä, G., Hassmén, P., Lundqvist, C., & Durand-Bush, N. (2018). Preventing burnout: The role of psychological resilience in sport. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11(1), 81-97.


Hanton, S., Mellalieu, S. D., & Hall, R. (2005). Self-confidence and anxiety interpretation: A qualitative investigation. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 6(4), 477-492.

Wolanin, A., Gross, M., & Hong, E. (2016). Depression in athletes: Prevalence and risk factors. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 15(5), 269-275.


Penedo, F. J., & Dahn, J. R. (2005). Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 18(2), 189-193.Fletcher, D., & Hanton, S. (2001). The relationship between psychological skills, coping strategies, and coping effectiveness in golf. The Sport Psychologist, 15(4), 422-440.


Woodman, T., & Hardy, L. (2003). The relative impact of cognitive anxiety and self-confidence upon sport performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 21(6), 443-457.

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