What are athlete's biggest psychological barriers and how they overcome them

Athletes are humans, too, and that means that they deal with psychological issues just like the rest of us. And just like a professional in any industry might deal with their psychological issues seeping into their work life, athletes’ psychological issues can impact their performance, too. However, with the right tools and proper management techniques, athletes can overcome these issues, resulting in not only better performance, but also overall better wellbeing.


Success in the sports world requires some level of dedication, but when that dedication turns into obsession, negative psychological issues such as anxiety can appear. Anxieties over failure, meeting others’ expectations, the possibility of an injury and what they might actually do if they’re successful in their sport, are all a possibility.


Depression in athletes can stem from many issues, but often, depression results from feelings of failure and injuries. On the flip side, depression can also occur after a remarkable victory or performance, as an athlete now feels they’ll never again be able to match their best work. Depression is also prevalent when an athlete must adjust to a changing role or environment, such as when a high school athlete joins a university team, or a university athlete joins a professional team.


Perfectionism is highly prevalent among athletes. On one hand, that perfectionism leads to a lot of their success, but, if not managed properly, that perfectionism can also lead to a dangerous mental state and actually hurt rather than help their performance. Athletes seeking the unattainable perfect performance are prone to over train, injuring themselves in the process. Or, those overly high expectations when it comes to a competition or match might lead to poorer performance just because of the amount of mental pressure the athlete is putting themself under. Additionally, the unavoidable failure to meet these expectations can lead to other psychological issues, such as anxiety and depression.

Burn Out

When you have work, family obligations and athletics all together, it makes it hard to focus on yourself. Self care may seem like a frivolous endeavor in the face of all these responsibilities, but it’s absolutely necessary in order to avoid a very real mental health issue — burn out. Pushing one’s self too hard not only leads to things like irritability, insomnia, depression and feelings of hopelessness and unhappiness, it can also result in poorer health, poorer performance and longer recovery times.

How do athletes deal with issues like these?

In many cases, athletes find that the same mental health practices that work for everyone else can work for them as well. Therapy and counseling provides athletes with a safe space in which to voice opinions and feelings that their coaches, colleagues and family members might not properly understand or respond to. Therapy can also help athletes learn to be more mentally aware of their emotions — so they can recognize when they’re being a perfectionist or anxious, and then approach those emotions in a rational manner, rather than allowing them to run rampant. A trained psychological professional can help provide athletes with proper coping techniques and mechanisms, so they can practice proper mental health, rather than relying on “quick fixes” like substance abuse. 

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