To hone their outstanding natural talent, elite young athletes face grueling daily training routines. These goals and regimens are typically carried out and accomplished with the guidance of a coach and medical team, as well as close friends and family. This is meant to serve as a support system both on an athletic and emotional level and nurture young athletes’ development. However, this system can sometimes result in young athletes feeling as if they have been put under a tremendous amount of pressure. The stress that this pressure causes can put a severe strain on the mental health of any sports star and can even lead to developing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
There are many reasons it is essential for athletes, and everyone else, to take good care of their mental health. Taking the time to monitor one’s mental state and ensure that the stresses of athletic life do not become overwhelming can go a long way in preserving someone’s overall health. While everyone is different, there are a few common risk factors associated with an athlete’s stress-filled life.
Common Risk Factors for Athletes
There are two main types of risk factors associated with mental health problems: intrinsic and extrinsic. Often, elite young athletes will develop a sense of self-worth exclusively or predominantly tied to their athletic performance. They may become depressed if they perform below expectation, leading to low self-worth and esteem. The relentless chase of exceeding performance both during training and competition can lead to a perfectionist complex, resulting in increased anxiety, stress, depression, and fatigue. Physical activity at optimum levels can benefit mental health, but overtraining, injuries and excessive pressure on the athlete can compromise mental health at the elite level.
According to various studies, parents and coaches have a significant impact on a young athlete’s well-being. Increasing parental pressure can lead to invalidating pressure and diminished motivation for the child. More than 1/3 of parents report that they give negative verbal comments to their young athletes, thereby increasing the possibility of burnout and psychological stress. In addition, more than one-third of young elite athletes reported psychological harm as a result of their coaches, such as shouting, negative comments, and intimidation.
How Athletes Can Cope
Thankfully, there are methods for reducing mental health problems in elite young athletes. Athletes should, for example, be encouraged to develop healthy coping mechanisms for stress by their coaches and parents, such as mindfulness practices, breathing exercises, and talk therapy. Additionally, they should be encouraged to take breaks from training and take part in positive activities that can help promote both an objective and subjective sense of achievement while decreasing the risk of mental health injuries. These include recreational activities like video games, art, hiking, and other activities that support mental stimulation and development, as well as help-seeking.
Rather than commenting on the athlete’s performance, parents and coaches are encouraged to comment on their attitude and effort. These simple suggestions can make a massive difference in how young athletes cope with the stress they face and can significantly improve their mental health.
How Athletes Can Seek Help for Their Mental Health
Unfortunately, there is still a negative stigma attached to seeking mental health assistance in many parts of the world. This stigma is often even worse within the world of sports despite its critical importance to the health of its athletes. Negative attitudes and stigma are two of the most significant barriers young athletes face when seeking help. Many young people are reluctant to admit their mental health issues, but studies have shown that young athletes exhibit a higher level of reluctance than non-athletes when seeking help.
A survey of top college athletes found that most did not seek help due to wanting to avoid any “personal discomfort,” while others felt professional assistance was unnecessary. However, it has been proven that therapy has a number of benefits that can help alleviate the symptoms caused by the stresses athletes face. Athletes that find themselves battling depression or anxiety brought on by the pressure of their sports careers will find that assertive community treatment may work wonders for the state of their mental health.
In summary, mental health issues are common in young elite athletes. Both the athletes’ “superhuman” identity and the pressures from parents and coaches play a role. Young athletes should have personalized methods of dealing with stress and encouragement in order to feel comfortable and confident enough to ask for help. All support systems, including family, friends, and coaches, should take steps to encourage young athletes to nurture their mental health.
Life Adjustment Team
If your children have new or worsening mental health diagnoses, please contact Life Adjustment Team today to learn how you can help. Life Adjustment Team has over 40 years of experience with improving individuals’ mental health through assertive community treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and proactive case management. If you want to learn more about how we help our community, contact us today!