WHAT’s happening in the mind of an athlete?



ask yourself “Have I had these thoughts?”

I’m an Athlete and I’m Not Okay

Athletes are Perfect Human Beings Right?

Can you Spell Athlete without Mental Health?

Athletes and Mental Health, Who Cares?

What’s Really Going on in an Athlete’s Mind?



inside the athlete mind

There is a belief that has been circling in the world of sports for as long as sports have existed. The belief that individuals who play sports are stronger than other humans (yes, athletes are also human believe it or not), both physically and mentally.

Athletes are assumed to have this unwavering ability to handle anything thrown at them, both literally and figuratively.

What happens when, no matter the amount of practice, an athlete just cannot seem to hit a curve ball? Is it because they haven’t practiced it enough? Is it because they can’t see it? There can be a number of questions raised on the physicality of an athlete when it comes to physical shortcomings.

The number one question which should be asked is:

What is going on in their mind as the ball was approaching the plate?


mental health in athletes

Far too often we blame a physical ailment as to why he couldn’t hit that jump shot, or she couldn’t dig that ball. The true focus should be on the athlete’s part of the body that cannot be seen and is not nearly trained enough: their brain.

Studies indicate elite athletes differ from mediocre athletes in one category: mental preparation/toughness. Let’s be clear, athletes, like anyone else, experience mental health issues like anxiety, depression, ADHD and learning disabilities.

It has never been about athletes being perfect or experiencing mental health issues. It is about the way an athlete learns to cope with these mental health difficulties so they can get to their highest achievements.


athlete Mental Health Statistics

Studies vary on the percentage of student-athletes with mental health issues, ranging from 10% – 30% of college athletes. There are a couple of reasons why the statistics vary.

First, the sports and mental health field is growing every day and new studies are coming out with their findings. Understanding mental health in athletes is still a relatively new field. It was not until 2013 the NCAA created the Mental Health Task Force to research issues relating to athletes and mental health. It has not been a priority in the past. Although there have been many strides, there is still a long way to go.

Second, I believe these statistics to be on the low end, meaning the percentage of athletes who experience mental health issues are probably higher. Although it is discussed more often today, it does not mean athletes are willing to admit to experiencing mental health issues.

There is still a stigma with mental health and seeking help. Athletes should be tougher than that right?


recognize mental health issues

Here is the good news. You’re not alone if you feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • frustrated
  • anxious
  • sad
  • pissed

Many athletes experience all of these emotions and I am here to tell you it’s perfectly normal. In fact, I would be concerned if you didn’t feel any of these emotions!

Often, society says, inaccurately, mental health issues are associated with weakness. Everyone, whether an athlete or not will experience some mental health issue(s) in their lifetime. It’s not so much about what the issue is, or whether someone else is going through something different.

It’s about the help you seek for it and what you can do for yourself to overcome it. There is strength in recognizing mental health issues and even more strength in advocating for a better mental health outcome for yourself.



Famous Athletes with Mental Health Disorders

Take a minute to read over these quotes spoken by some of the most successful athletes in the world. And take a minute to grasp the fact you are not alone. The teammate sitting next to you, the competitor you face, the coach instructing you, or the athlete on the other side of the world has been in your shoes.

“Everyone is going through something that we can’t see… Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another.” -Kevin Love

“I think as an athlete we’re taught that if we can push through anything we can make it wherever we want to go, and we’re always told to not ask for help.” -Allison Schmitt

Many of the most successful athletes in the world have experienced their own mental boxing match. We all have. We try to fight the big, bad, mental invasion forging in our brains. Thinking we need to do it alone. Thinking the outside world will believe we are weak. Instead of holding all that barrage of emotions, bring everything you’re feeling to light. Because when you bring it to light, you allow yourself to recognize it. And once you recognize it, you give yourself the freedom to overcome it.



Challenge: Work this Exercise

  1.  Grab a pen and paper, or your computer or whatever device you prefer.
  2.  Try to find a quiet area or room where ever you are reading this.
  3.  Put some music on if you like.
  4.  Have a seat with that pen and paper on the table.
  5.  Write down every emotion you have felt, both on and off the field relating to your sport, your teammates, your coach, school, family, any topic you want to think about.

Take about five minutes, or a little more if necessary.

If you want, do this with a friend and compare notes. This will give you an understanding of the different emotions every athlete has faced.

Keep this list posted somewhere.

We’ll expand on this next week when I talk about anxiety and coping strategies for practice, on the field of play, in school, and at home.