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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Cook

Mental Performance Training Can Proactively Benefit Athlete Mental Health

change your mindset and the results will follow

Athletes are at a higher risk of being impacted by poor mental health. This is not news and should come as no surprise when you factor in the pressure that athletes face at all levels of the game, from youth to professional. 

To top it off, athletes are also less likely to seek help when they are experiencing symptoms of poor mental health because of the stigma of being seen as weak or incapable of performing.

There has been a major shift around mental health in the past 13 years as we have seen initiatives such as “Bell Let’s Talk” grow the conversation around mental health. Now we are also starting to see many well known athletes share their stories and become advocates for mental health. 

These are all great steps in the right direction. 

But we can do more!

Athletes are not only less likely to seek help but the resources that they have access to (if any, depending on the level and location of the team) are REACTIVE. Meaning that athletes aren’t able to access these resources until they have already begun to experience mental health symptoms or are already in a slump in their game.

While it is great that some athletes do have access to resources if and when they need it, shouldn’t we be thinking about how to provide them with resources that are more PROACTIVE and can help them get ahead of the problem?

Mental Wellbeing Starts With Leadership

Creating a healthy culture starts from the top. 

Let’s look at some statistics from a similar environment - the workplace.

Toxic workplaces have been identified as one of the biggest loss leaders in corporate, increasing depression by 300% and adding $16 billion in employee health care costs in 2008.

Research shows that teams with negative workplace environments experience the following declines in performance

  • 48% intentional decreased work ethic

  • 38% intentional decrease in quality of work

  • 78% indicated decline in commitment to company

  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on others

Compare this to companies with a culture based around health, safety, and wellbeing and they outperformed the market by 2% per year over a 10-year period - that is 20% better over 10 years!

Leadership has serious impacts on mental health. Research shows that leadership can have a bigger impact on mental health than doctors (51%) and therapists (41%) and have the same as a spouse or partner (69%). 

When companies invest in their people and provide extra support (leadership, counseling, DEI, etc) yet there are consistent findings in corporations that show that returning to a misaligned environment results in poor ROI and dips into negative returns.

This is partly because the environment must be in alignment with the training that is provided. You can’t tell someone to focus on the process while simultaneously creating an environment that only values the outcomes. 

Get Proactive With Athlete Mental Health

The only way to create long-term, sustainable changes in athlete mental health is by creating a psychologically safe environment where athletes feel that they can be their authentic selves, and vulnerable about their experiences without being penalized for it.

No more saying, “It’s okay not to be okay”, and following it up by taking playing time away from those that choose to share their inner experiences.

It’s time for General Managers, Coaches, and Athletic Directors to lead with empathy and curiosity, and to provide support to their athletes so they can focus on their growth and development journey.

Another way to proactively combat athlete mental health is to provide athletes and teams with tools and strategies that will empower them to take care of their mind and body. 

Sports Psychologists and Mental Performance Coaches teach athletes about important concepts that aren’t typically taught in schools (such as self-awareness, emotional intelligence, confidence, and more) and how they can strategically apply tools to understand and solve problems both in and out of sport.

This newsletter is in association with The Athletic Mind Podcast. Listen here for the full episode.


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