Student Athletes and Mental Health

by Hailey King | June 2024

The athletics industry is constantly changing and evolving in today’s society. It is important that student-athletes can improve their own mental health, as well as identify ways their friends, families, and coaches can support them.


Ways for friends and family to support an athlete:

  •  Set realistic expectations.  Family members, significant others, and friends can want and see only the best for the athlete they are close to.  While we want someone to succeed, we also have to understand the probability that they will be the best ever or win every trophy they come across.  Find that balance between pushing them to be their best and pushing them to the point of performance anxiety or burnout. 
  • Encourage an open conversation.  Allow the athlete to start the conversation or focus on asking positive questions.  Beginning the conversation with what the athlete did wrong or why they didn’t play well can cause them to only focus on and see those things.  Help them find the bright spots, not the dark ones.


Ways for coaches to support their athlete:

  • Ask your athlete what they need from you.  Every player is different and may need to be pushed and improve in different ways.  Let them know you are there to work with them and less players will lose the love for the game due to a poor coaching style they came across.
  • Get the story before the whole “you don’t want to be here speech”.  You can still be an intense coach while also understanding your athletes.  Pick up on body language for what it is, not always assuming it is laziness.  Sometimes picking your moments can save your connection with an athlete, and both of you will be better for it.


Ways for athletes to support themselves:

  • Accept your resources.  There is no shame in seeking out the school or team counselor.  When we join the community around us, we see how much harder it can be to navigate struggles alone.  Know you can be strong even if others help you to do so.
  •  Remember why you decided to be an athlete.  Play for the little girl or boy that wanted nothing more than to play the game.  At that time the little things meant the most, and the results seemed so secondary.  Allow yourself to have fun and give yourself credit for the work you’ve done, the results will handle themselves.
  • Remind yourself you are more than your sport.  The sport you play is what you do not what you are.  Look for that joy you find in time with your family, friends, or in your hobbies.  Find joy in the small things and the big things won’t seem so monumental if they fall short.


Important Terms:

* Performance Anxiety = “A type of anxiety or strong, excessive feeling of fear or worry that is related to being able to accomplish something specific [or] well,” (Olivine, 2024). 

* Burnout = “A response to chronic stress of continued demands in a sport activity without the opportunity for physical and mental rest and recovery (Sitzler, 2024).



Olivine, A. (2024, January 16). What is performance anxiety? What is Performance Anxiety? 

Sitzler, B. (2024, January 30). Burnout in athletes. Burnout in Athletes.