Mental Health and Athletic Performance

The basis of athletic performance is often focused on the performance of the body. While it might be the main component to athletic success, the physical aspect of sports isn’t the only factor. When we talk about sports, we often neglect the psychology behind performance. An athlete’s mental health can be a detriment to their performance, but can also be an advantage.

A recent example of the overlooked aspects of mental health in sport is the case of Naomi Osaka, who withdrew from the French Open due to mental health struggles, which opened up a dialogue on the mental obstacles that professional athletes face.

Osaka isn’t the only professional athlete who has struggled balancing mental wellness and athletic performance, either. Some of the biggest names in sports; Michael Phelps, Kevin Love, Serena Williams, and more have been vocal about the effect of their mental state on their performance.

But mental health affects athletes of all levels, not just the professionals. Most struggles come from the pressure to perform, and they start at a young age. Whether that be the pressure to perform to up to your own standards, a coach’s standards, parents standards, or someone else.

Pressures can also be produced from performing in front of an audience. They can cause copious anxiety in the buildup to the event, which can lead someone to psych themselves out before they even have to perform. These pressures and anxieties often cause a decline in performance, regardless of how well prepared you may be physically.

Your mental wellness shouldn’t be a barrier to your performance, it should fuel your performance. There are ways to relieve yourself from the pressures and struggles that you face when it comes to athletic performance.

Put it into perspective.

At the end of the day, no matter how big the stage, your athletic performance does not define who you are as a person. The game, match, or event might seem like the most important thing in the world, but it isn’t. Putting it into perspective and realizing that it won’t make or break your entire life is the way to break free from the stress it produces.

Know when to take action.

All athletes should enjoy participating in their sport. Isn’t that why you started in the first place? Performing is important, but how can you perform when it’s taking a toll on you mentally? When it comes to the point where sports feel more laboring than enjoyable, it’s time to take action. Naomi Osaka was praised for her bravery when she was able to recognize that her mental struggles became too much to handle, and she took a hiatus. Taking a break from something that is causing more harm than good shouldn’t be frowned upon, and can be a good way to remove yourself and reassess.

Seek guidance.

As an athlete, it might be hard to navigate and deal with all of the struggles you face alone. Seeking guidance and help from someone else on how to deal with it can be beneficial. This can come in many forms. You can do simple research to find tips and advice on the internet. You can speak with someone and find ways to cope with it. This can be a coach, trainer, or even sports psychologist. The steps you take can be simple or rigorous depending on how much guidance you may need.

The most important thing to remember is that it’s OK to be overwhelmed. It’s OK to voice your concerns. It’s OK to say enough is enough. You need to gauge when healthy pressure becomes unhealthy pressure, and when it begins to affect you beyond what is manageable. Your athletic performance will suffer when you suffer mentally. If you can manage your mental health, you can thrive athletically.

If you suspect a loved one may be living with anxiety and depression, encourage them to speak with a mental health professional. Our therapists at Pacific CBT are here to help! Contact us today to schedule a free, 15-minute video consultation.

About The Author

A Mass Communication & Media Studies student at Purdue University, Trey Schwartz is an experienced writer in various fields. He is a young professional gaining experience through freelancing while continuing towards a bachelor’s degree. He hopes to write for a large publication on a variety of topics.