Athlete Mental Health: How to Keep Your Athlete Mentally Healthy | Collage and Wood

Student Athlete Mental Health: How to Keep Your Athlete Healthy

Athlete mental health has become a topic of conversation even more after the life changes of 2020. So, as #thebestsportsmomever, how do you keep your athlete mentally healthy?

Mental health is an important topic of discussion in today’s society, and it's no different for athletes. You want to make sure your athlete has a healthy mind so they can be at their best on the field or court!

This blog should not be considered medical advice. If you or someone you love is having a mental health crisis, please call 911, or your family physician.

Additional online resources include counseling websites such as:

Mental health for athletes has been studied by many researchers, but there is still much to learn. Researchers have found that athletes are more likely to experience mental health problems than the general population.

Recent statistics indicate that 95% of male and 85% of female athletes report higher stress compared to 52% of non-athlete students. Athletes report higher stress in romantic relationships, higher responsibilities, decreased sleep, and extracurricular activity demand. (source: Northeastern University: Identifying Stress Unique to College Athletes).

Athletes are under a lot of pressure to perform well. They may be worried about their place on the team, their scholarship, or their future in the sport.

Some athletes turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with these pressures. This can lead to addiction and other mental health problems.

Mental health problems can also arise from injuries.

Athletes who suffer serious injuries may have trouble returning to competition. They may feel depressed or anxious about their ability to perform at a high level again.

Eating disorders are also common among athletes. Many athletes feel pressure to be thin or muscular. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits and body image issues.

It is important for athletes to get help if they are struggling with mental health problems.

There are many resources available to athletes, including counselors, therapists, and support groups.

Making the Transition after Competition for competitive athletes


Coaches can address athlete mental health issues.

Athletes could talk to their coaches or trainers about their mental health if they feel comfortable.

Coaches can provide support and understanding. They can also help connect athletes to resources if needed.

Student athletes are constantly under pressure to perform at their best.

They are expected to juggle academics with our training schedule, and often their social life takes a backseat to sports-related commitments.

Juggling so many balls in the air can take a toll on our mental health.

Fortunately, coaches can play a vital role in supporting student athlete mental health.

By taking the time to check in with athletes and see how they are doing, coaches can help student athletes to identify when they might be struggling and connect their players with the resources they need to get back on track.

Additionally, coaches can create an atmosphere of open communication, where student athletes feel comfortable speaking up about their mental health without fear of judgement.


Mental toughness of student athletes

Being a student athlete requires a tremendous amount of mental toughness.

You have to be able to block out all the noise and focus on your studies, while also dealing with the pressure of performing on the field or court.

That takes a special kind of person.

Student athletes have to be able to handle disappointment, both in themselves and in their team's performance.

They also have to be able to stay motivated, even when things are tough. It's not easy being a student athlete, but those who have the mental toughness to succeed are truly special.

They are the ones who will go on to achieve great things, both in their sport and in their lives.

Mental toughness in high-pressure situations is a lot like courage when facing a threat.

It’s not that we aren’t afraid, it’s that we still act in spite of the fear.

In stressful game situations, it’s not that mentally-tough athletes don’t doubt their ability or fear failure - but they trust their training and are willing to try even though it’s hard.

I love how this performance coach described it:

“True mental toughness is pliability and flexibility.” - Justin S'ua, Head of Mental Performance, Tampa Bay Rays

Stage 1 of the grief cycle for athletes: denial

I’ve listened as coaches have shared stories of watching athletes who play “in the zone.”

It’s magical to watch - when an individual or team is competing together at their highest level.

Other times I’ve seen "it" while watching off-Broadway musicals - I’ve observed it in orchestra.

No matter the art, there’s nothing like watching talented individuals perform at their best. 

In one room, I heard the someone describe “The Zone” as "pure love and joy."

- Source Unknown

We can reframe every loss and victory as a metaphor for success in life - and improve athlete mental health.

Stage 2 of the grief cycle when an athlete stops playing sports

However, we know that in sports there is always the victor on top and the loser on the bottom.

We don’t like to hear words like loser, lost, or failure. Especially when it pertains to our kids. 

How coaches (and you as a parent) can help an athlete bounce back after a poor performance, an untimely turnover or painful loss.

An expert in athlete mindset, Bryn Drescher, said it this way: 

“Clarify the difference between fault and responsibility.”

-Bryn Drescher

We have to separate the mistake, the error, the miscalculation - we have to separate these efforts from the individual.

Athletes make mistakes.

Athletes are not their mistakes.

One of my favorite insights has been from an athlete playing basketball professionally overseas, Josh Young. 

He said:

“Help them differentiate their talent from their gift. The gift will be their for life that’s what they will give to the world.”

- Josh Young

Being a student athlete is one of the most difficult things there is.

You have to juggle between academics and sports, and often times, it can be hard to strike a balance.

When you're student athlete, your entire life revolves around your sport. You eat, sleep, and breathe it.

So when an injury forces an athlete to hang up their cleats for good, it can be devastating.

Even though he may have seen it coming because of senior year, it's still hard to accept that your playing days are over.

All of a sudden, student athletes may feel like you have no purpose.

Their identity is wrapped up in being an athlete, and now that's gone.

When competitive sports end, your athlete may suffer from deep sadness, or grief, over the loss of participating in the game that they love.

It's normal to grieve the loss of your athletic career. But with time, healing can occur.

stage three of the grief cycle: bargaining

The Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle

The Kubler-Ross grief cycle is a series of emotions experienced by people who are grieving. It was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

The cycle includes five stages:

  1. denial,

  2. anger,

  3. bargaining,

  4. depression, and

  5. acceptance.

Though it is often described as a linear process, it is important to remember that not everyone experiences all five stages, and that the order in which they are experienced may vary.

Stages of grief your student athletes may experience at the end of their high school or college career:


In this stage, individuals are in shock and denial. They may be unwilling to accept that the loss has occurred. This is a defense mechanism that gives them time to adjust to the new reality.


As the initial shock wears off, reality sets in and individuals become angry. They may be angry with themselves, with God, or with the sport they loved.

This is a normal part of the grieving process and is often directed at those who are perceived as being responsible for the "death" of this part of their life.

stages of grief after sports

For some college athletes or high school athletes (and definitely professional athletes), their entire identity has been built around being an athlete.

So when their college career comes to an end, they can feel lost and uncertain about the future.

This can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

There are many ways to get help if you're struggling with your mental health.

If you're a college athlete, your school's athletic department may have mental health resources available to help you transition to life after sports.

There are also many counseling and mental health resources services online and in your community.


making the transition after sports, bargaining in stage 3 of the grief cycle


In the bargaining stage of grief, individuals may try to make deals with God or other powers in an attempt to change the reality of the situation.

They may also ruminate on what they could have done differently to prevent the final outcomes of the last game - or question their decision to stop playing their sport.

It is common for athletes to feel like they are "letting their team down" if they retire or quit playing as student athletes.

Athletes may also deal with grief in different ways than the general population.

For example, an student athlete who has just been cut from a team may react with anger and disbelief, feeling that the decision was unfair.

Athlete mental health is a growing concern as more and more athletes are coming forward with mental health issues.

Athletes are under a lot of pressure to perform at their best and win.

This pressure can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

It is important for athletes to find healthy ways to cope with the pressure they are under.



stages of grief after sports end: depression

In this stage of the end of an a student athlete's career, individuals may become withdrawn and despairing.

They may lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy and have difficulty seeing a future without their beloved sport. This can lead to depression, which is a serious mental health condition that requires treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please seek professional help.

Mental health is an important issue for all athletes, but it can be especially difficult for student athletes who are dealing with the end of their careers. If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help from a mental health professional. Remember, there is no shame in seeking help—it is a sign of strength, not weakness. athlete mental health matters!

In this stage, individuals may become withdrawn and despairing. They may lose interest in activities that they used to enjoy and have difficulty seeing a future without their beloved sport.


stages of grief after sports end, stage 5 acceptance

In this stage, student athletes are able to accept the reality of the situation and start to make plans for their future.

They may still feel sad or experience moments of grief, but they are able to go on with their lives.

Even in sports, the grief cycle is evident.

Players may go through denial after a loss, anger at their opponents or teammates, bargaining with the coach or themselves, depression over their performance, and eventually acceptance of the result.

When an injury causes the end of a student athletes career

stage four of the grief cycle for athletes when they stop playing sports: depression

Athletes who suffer an injury go through the stages of grief in order to come to terms with their new reality.

The first stage is denial.

In this stage, the athlete may not want to believe that they are injured and may try to downplay the severity of the injury.

After denial comes anger.

The athlete may be angry at themselves, the situation, or even God.

They may feel like they have been dealt a unfair hand and start to question why this has happened to them.

The next stage is bargaining.

In this stage, the athlete may start to make deals with themselves or with a higher power in order to avoid the reality of the situation.

For example, they may promise to never play their sport again if they are able to heal quickly.

The fourth stage is depression.

In this stage, the athlete may start to feel hopeless and helpless.

They may withdraw from their friends and family and stop participating in activities that they once enjoyed.

The final stage is acceptance.

stage 5 acceptance, coping with grief and the end of sports

In this stage, the athlete is finally able to accept the reality of their situation and make plans for their future.

The Kubler-Ross grief cycle is a helpful tool for understanding the emotions that people experience when they are grieving.

It is important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way and there is no right or wrong way to do it.

If you are struggling to cope with a loss, seeking professional help can be a valuable step in the healing process.

Source: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

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