Psychological Problems Of Athletes

Society tends to see professional athletes as “super-powered beings” possessing unfathomable stamina, speed, endurance, skill, and talents that can only be aspired by normal folks. In Greek mythology, even the word Olympian from its roots presupposes that athletes are extraordinary beings. It, therefore, makes it hard to realize that these people aren’t excluded from health problems and diseases experienced by humans in general. Highly trained athletes can be described as athletes competing at the elite, Medalist, or college level. Because they usually practice and perform at comparable levels to pro athletes, college athletes are also included.

With the advent of advanced sports psychology development in previous years, the heightened focus has been paid to the physiological well-being of highly trained athletes who do not only render enormous mental and physical sacrifices in their profession but also struggle with immense expectations while competing globally. For many, participation in athletics is a physical and social activity and also an effective solution for coping with stress, and it is well proven to deter certain psychological issues such as discouragement and anxiety disorders from arising. Practising sports at an elite level though provides a radically different set of challenges as a high-pressure profession full of pressures and limits.

Recent studies have concentrated on the essence and effect of injury and other physical impairments on professional athletes and developments in these fields have been made. There is limited research on the social and emotional well-being of professional athletes compared to such high-quality research. Nevertheless, increased attention has been paid to the socio-psychological problems and signs of mental health of elite athletes in recent times and new directions of study are being proposed and published. A policy report on the mental well being of professional athletes was also released in 2019 by the Committee for International Olympics.

Elite athletes often seem to be highly functioning people with different positive mental qualities such as concentration, endurance, confidence, and calmness. The expectation seems to be that only those athletes who are emotionally and psychologically strong will achieve success and be prepared to perform at the best level. It has led to short attention throughout the scope of professional sports on physiological disorders.

The misconception that professional athletes are excluded from mental health challenges is being questioned, as research shows that the top athletes are indeed susceptible to and deal with mental issues such as fear, depression, disordered eating, compulsive behaviours, addictions, and abuse of substances. The media reported an increasing number of professional athletes with mental health problems, including Michael Phelps (Top Olympic Swimmer), Marcus Trescothick (Int’l Cricket player), and Johnny Wilkinson (Professional rugby Player), to name only a few. Such media reports point to the reality that psychological problems can also influence pro athletes.

In athletics, we find physical challenges that can trigger psychological challenges, although cognitive, emotional or sociological, such as rigorous training and loss of form. Athletes, like every other person, also encounter personal problems, such as conflicts or traumatic life experiences. All these various factors can impair athletic performance. If not handled properly, it can also impact preparation, career improvements, social relationships, and physical recovery.

According to studies, the incidence of psychological disorders appears greatest in younger people, with approximately 25% of youngsters aged 16-34 fulfilling the medical requirements for many disorders. Such conditions include paranoia, severe anxiety disorders, and conditions of social anxiety, panic problems, and eating abnormally.

It is worth noting that because of the physical and mental pressures of their activity, the prime age for the likelihood of the development of socio-psychological problems in athletes coincides with their maximum performance years in their sports. While top athletes are mostly in the classes of fairly young age, there has been significant evidence available in this demographic about the existence of mental health problems. The data available show that elite athletes are subject to a large comparative incidence of mental disorders with elevated severity (i.e. stress, anxiety) when compared to the wider population. Nonetheless, for a range of reasons, it is hard to compare the susceptibility of top athletes to the frequency in the overall population.

A blend of standard and sport-specific influences can increase the risk of symptoms or disorders of mental health in the career of a top athlete. Professional athletes could face a higher risk level of ailments and mental health disorders compared to their athletic colleagues if they suffer severe musculoskeletal injuries, numerous surgery operations, diminished sports performance or are inclined to maladaptive perfectionism.

Participation in sport can guard against signs and problems in socio-psychological health due to the therapeutic impact of exercising. It may also be common for an individual to have signs of poor mental health or a psychological health problem with no correlation to their involvement in athletic competition and the actual state of mental health. Recent studies have shown that athletes experience various traumas, display signs or symptoms, and suffer from socio-psychological health problems.


Throughout their athletic career, elite athletes encounter a vast set of stress factors. When top athletes work in very specific social and environmental environments, any of these stressors will lead to poor mental health in a person. A few of these include:

● Athletes in transition

● Overtraining

● Career Requirements

● Disability

● Huge negative life incidents

● Athletics requiring specific body changes

● Low social interaction

● Organizational considerations such as commuting and spending long hours away from home

● Specific stressors (i.e. family issues)

● Social media scrutiny.

Solutions for treating Common Socio-Psychological Problems

● Athletes should be educated and have an awareness of the support available to them

● Athletes should have access to mental health professionals. A safe and supportive atmosphere should be created for athletes, one in which they can ask for help without fear of negative job repercussions.

● New methods for managing sport-related problems such as overtraining, emotional responses to injury, and withdrawal from sport should be established.

As a consequence of the different specific stressors they face in their athletic environment, highly trained athletes are prone to socio-psychological disorders. Critical factors include the impact on performance by injury, over-training, social media scrutiny and ongoing increased competition. Athletes and support personnel need to be informed of these psychological issues and be able to seek help without intimidation as well.

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