The Mental Struggles of Being an Athlete

Athletes have a complicated relationship with mental health, but it’s important that they maintain a healthy one to ensure that they can perform at their best.

Isaiah Griffin, Sports Journalist

Varsity Basketball player, Melissa Ketter getting ready for her game against Lakes. Photo Taken By: Noah Ontiveros

A topic that is rarely talked about in sports is the mental health of athletes, but especially the mental health of high school athletes. Athletes in high school have to manage not only the stress that comes with being in high school but the added stress of being involved in a sport.

It is common knowledge that exercise releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which creates feelings of pleasure, bliss, and all other emotions relating to happiness. Sports are a clear form of exercise, which often cause some to misinterpret sports effects of only resulting in those feelings relating to the release of dopamine. To anyone in a sport though, it is clear that this is a large misconception, as the stress of performance, time management, and more build up in an athlete’s mind. This is supported through a poll of high school athletes in Lake and McHenry County, where a reported 81% of surveyed athletes felt some type of mental stressor.

One of the most common triggers for mental stress in athletes is the anxiety and nervousness that builds up before performing in a game. The fear of losing or the opponent being more skilled than oneself is bound to cause anxiety. If an athlete is unable to push past that anxiety or nervousness they feel, it could cause them to perform poorly and possibly lose when winning might have been an outcome. Although learning to process and move past these emotions is challenging, it is important to recognize that it is not impossible-with one possible solution including listening to music. A study done by the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine illustrates that athletes who listened to music prior to playing performed better and were calmer during a competitive game as opposed to the athletes who didn’t listen to music. Although overcoming the anxiety and rising to the occasion is always the desired outcome, an athlete can never ensure that those feelings of doubt will falter before their game. An athlete can also speak to a coach or a former athlete about pregame nervousness and how they dealt with it. After speaking to someone who has dealt with pregame nervousness the athlete can apply what was talked about and that could help.

Losing is something that will and has happened to everyone in life. When athletes lose a game, it can trigger even more anxiety and create further mental stress for future games. It’s quite common for athletes to get upset at themselves after a dreadful loss. Grant Community High School varsity basketball player, junior Melissa Ketter, “feels like [she] could have done more and played harder” after a loss. This is all too common in athletes, but they should push themselves to not linger on a loss for too long. A person should take losing as motivation to get better and improve. Taking those negative emotions and turning them into fuel can make a significant difference in one’s training.

If an athlete can’t overcome the mental stress and it becomes too much for them to take, that can cause persistent mental issues. Anxiety, mood, personality, and eating disorders are all very frequently seen in athletes. According to an article published by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, common symptoms of those disorders are depressed moods, lack of interest in certain activities or in the sport the athlete is involved in. In addition, a constant change in emotions, a lack of eating, or an overindulgence in eating food. These symptoms can endanger a person’s health and the relationships someone has. Acquiring help or recognizing symptoms in themselves may be hard but if someone else see’s this in an athlete getting a psychiatrist would be the best option. A psychiatrist specializes in mental health and could give the athlete in question solutions for their mental health problems. 

With all things considered, being an athlete is mentally challenging and the mental struggles of being an athlete isn’t highlighted by many. There are several solutions that athletes can use to help with the mental battle of being involved with a sport, and that can range from speaking to a professional, such as a psychiatrist, to simply listening to a song before playing. There are many different ways an athlete can get help, but the most important thing is initially reaching out for help. To perform well physically, any athlete must maintain their mental health before any new, larger stressors come about. If you or someone you care for is struggling with their mental health, your peers, teachers, counselors, family, and friends are all there to support you in becoming your best self.