How Does Mental Health Affect Athletic Performance?

Athletes’ mental health is something every coach wishes they could help manage for their players.

If you take away all of the external factors of the game like the time clock, boundaries, or a final score (such as during practice) high performance can be achieved because the athlete is focused on the task and not the outcome.

The ability to focus on the process and not the outcome is what separates those who achieve their goals from those who don’t.

It allows the athlete to be in the moment and not worry about anything else.

So how do we make athletes perform with a level head—without excessive stress or anxiety—leading to the flawless performances we know they’re capable of, in the face of high-pressure situations?

A simple answer is that every athlete has to learn to cope with “off days”, sub-par performance, or even failure.

Perfect performance doesn’t exist.

The weight of a win or a loss is lifted when an athlete has let go of anxiety—and can play for the fun of the sport again.

This is easier said than done and is a process that takes time, but with the right guidance, any athlete can improve their mental game.

Having high expectations can only be achieved if you work on them in practice.

Thinking you should be good at anything without putting in the time to be great is where most athletes go wrong.

The self-doubt that starts to eat away at an athlete’s confidence is usually based on unrealistic expectations.

For those players that do reach a high level of play, it’s being able to manage the mental state that separates them as an athlete.

Most athletes put very high expectations on performance.

This could be based on their natural talent, what people have told them in the past, or even their own self-evaluation of their skills.

The problem is when these expectations are not met, it can lead to a spiral of negative thoughts that impact an athlete’s confidence.

It is so important for athletes to understand that everyone goes through slumps and that it’s a part of the game.

Those that fail have often allowed too many outside factors to hinder their performance, and don’t allow success to even be an option.

The heart pumps blood to supply the organs, not the limbs, so an elevated heart will take away coordination; therefore, professional athletes do much better by focusing on slow breathing.

Watch any high-level competitor and count the number of deep breaths.

The ones that are in control have a low and steady heart rate because they know how to manage their mental state.

An athlete’s worst enemy is their own self-doubt.

“I’m not good enough,” “They’re better than me,” and “I can’t do this” are all phrases that go through an athlete’s head at some point.

These negative thoughts impact performance more than anything else.

Mental health for athletes is important because it is something that is often overlooked. Other factors may be out of their hands, but their thoughts and emotions regarding stress, anxiety, and pressure are all things that can be managed – with the right mindset.

It is important for athletes to have high expectations for themselves, but they need to be realistic and understand that failure is going to be part of that growth pattern.

If an athlete can learn to manage their mental state, then they will be able to perform at their highest level – regardless of the situation. At the highest levels of play, the athlete with better mental balance will almost always come out on top.