Mental wellness plays a significant role in an athlete’s overall well-being and athletic performance. Countless psychologists and supporting research have highlighted the importance of mental health in athletes’ overall health and optimal functioning. In reality, mental health exists on a continuum, with resilience and thriving on one end and mental health disorders that disrupt a student-athlete’s functioning and performance on the other. Unfortunately, for the individual, mental health is often overlooked, and approximately one in five adults experiences mental illness in a given year, with young adults and college students being at the highest risk.

College, Professional and high-level Club athletes are faced with similar developmental challenges as their non-athlete peers but must also respond to the challenges and opportunities of competitive sport. The sport environment has both risk and protective factors for mental health disorders, and genetic predispositions and environmental influences outside of the sport environment that may impact mental health. Mental and physical health are inextricably linked, with evidence suggesting that athletes who experience anxiety, depression have an elevated risk of injury.

The athletics department and club managers can play a pivotal role in providing an environment that supports student-athlete wellness. Coaches have a responsibility to address the mental wellness of their athletes, just as they would their physical health. Here are some ways in which coaches can do so:

  • Create a Safe Space: The sport environment is an important venue for establishing mental health promotion practices, destigmatizing mental health challenges, and facilitating early identification of mental health disorders. Coaches must create an environment where athletes feel comfortable discussing their mental health by opening communication channels and emphasizing the importance of mental wellness.
  • Normalize Seeking Help: Coaches should normalize the process of seeking help for mental health issues. It is also an opportunity to learn about the role that mental well-being plays in total health and the ability to thrive both on and off the field of play.
  • Provide Resources: Coaches should provide access to resources ensuring that all student-athletes in need receive care from qualified practitioners such as licensed mental health professionals, team psychologists, and other professionals who can assist with them with their mental health concerns.
  • Address Stressors: Athletes often face significant stressors, including pressure to perform, injuries, and personal challenges. Coaches can help to reduce the stressors that athletes face by developing strategies to manage time, workload, expectations, and other factors that may impact their mental wellness.
  • Encourage Self-Care: Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can significantly affect an athlete’s ability to perform at their best. Coaches can encourage their athletes to practice self-care, which can involve rest, relaxation, and other activities that promote mental wellness.

In general, athlete mental well-being is best served through a collaborative process of engaging the full complement of available club and community resources, which may include athletics, campus health, counseling services, and community agencies. Identifying the available resources and integrating strong professional working relationships across these areas are critical to ensure that professionals are informed and respond quickly and effectively. Such integration links professionals in a collaborative model of care that can enhance the ability of individual service providers and maximize support.

By: Dave Dennis, MSW, LSW

Grow Sports Psychology & Performance Improvement would be humbled to support you on your journey towards mental wellness and toughness in pursuing your dreams as a high-level athlete or performer. We have a tremendous staff of highly trained sports and performance psychology that are here to support you as an athlete, improve cohesiveness and performance within your team or club and elevate the quality of your coaches to create a healthy, competitive, and supportive environment for top performers. We will provide you and your club with the necessary mental skills, resources, and tools to elevate the quality of performance on the field.

Please contact us today at [email protected] to learn more about our service offerings, past clients and impact.