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  • Writer's pictureJoe Puentes, Psy.D.

Effective Tips on Managing Student Athlete Mental Health

Updated: Jan 18

2 female students athletes working on their mental health

Being a student athlete comes with its unique set of challenges, both physically and mentally. This resource is dedicated to exploring effective tips and strategies tailored specifically for managing mental health in student athletes. As the intersection of academics and athletics creates a unique set of challenges, understanding the nuances of mental health in sports becomes paramount. Here, we delve into the multifaceted landscape of student athlete mental health, offering insights and practical advice to help individuals thrive both on and off the field. Whether you're an athlete or coach, discover the tools to foster resilience, balance, and overall mental wellness.

Statistics on Student Athlete Mental Health

​​The NCAA Student-Athlete Well-Being Study conducted in fall 2021, involving 9,808 college athletes, brought to light concerning statistics regarding mental health among student-athletes. Respondents revealed heightened rates of mental exhaustion and anxiety, with particular vulnerabilities identified in demographic subgroups, including women, student-athletes of color, those on the queer spectrum, and those facing family economic hardship. 

In terms of mental health support, the survey indicated that while two-thirds of student-athletes knew where to seek help on campus, only 56% felt equipped to assist a teammate with mental health issues. Moreover, less than half (47%) felt personally comfortable seeking support from a mental health provider on campus.

The study underscored that 63% of student-athletes believed their teammates took mental health concerns seriously, while 53% acknowledged coaches' similar recognition. Alarmingly, only half of the respondents perceived mental health as a priority within their athletics department. 

Student playing basketball with his coach at school

These statistics emphasize the critical need for increased awareness and support for student-athlete mental health, urging athletes, coaches, and institutions to foster environments that prioritize and address these concerns. Immediate action is imperative to implement robust mental health programs, foster a supportive environment, and dismantle the stigma surrounding seeking help, ensuring the overall well-being of our student-athletes.

Factors Influencing Mental Health in Student Athletes

The following are key factors that influence mental health in student athletes:

  • Academic Demands

  • Athletic Performance Pressure

  • Injury Concerns

  • Social Isolation

  • Identity and Self-Worth

  • Pressure to Excel

  • Body Image and Eating Disorders

  • Access to Support Systems

Understanding and addressing these factors is crucial for promoting the mental well-being of student athletes. A holistic approach that considers both the academic and athletic aspects of their lives can contribute to a healthier and more resilient individual.

15 Strategies for Managing Mental Health in Student Athletes

Explore this comprehensive list of effective tips and evidence-based approaches tailored to enhance the mental resilience of student athletes.

Student athlete learning to manage her mental health.

1. Balancing Academics and Athletics

The Struggle of Juggling Studies and Sports

Finding equilibrium between academics and athletics is crucial for student athletes. It's common to feel overwhelmed, but effective time management can make this juggling act more manageable. Prioritize tasks, create a study schedule, and communicate with educators about your commitments.

2. Time Management Strategies

Mastering Your Schedule for Success

Effective time management is key to reducing stress. Plan your days, allocate specific time blocks for studying and training, and avoid procrastination. By mastering your schedule, you can create a sense of control and accomplish tasks efficiently.

3. Recognizing Signs of Stress

Understanding Mental Health Red Flags

It's essential to recognize signs of stress early on. Changes in sleep patterns, mood swings, or a decline in academic or athletic performance can indicate underlying stress. Pay attention to these red flags and address them proactively.

4. Effective Communication with Coaches

Fostering Open Dialogue for Support

Maintaining open communication with coaches is vital. Share your concerns and seek their guidance. Coaches are often experienced mentors who can provide valuable insights and support during challenging times.

5. Importance of Rest and Recovery

The Role of Rest in Mental Well-being

Rest is crucial for mental well-being. Ensure you get sufficient sleep and allow your body to recover from intense training. Quality rest contributes to improved focus, mood, and overall mental resilience.

6. Building a Supportive Network

Surrounding Yourself with Positive Influences

Creating a supportive network of friends, family, and teammates can significantly impact your mental health. Surround yourself with positive influences who understand the demands of being a student athlete and provide encouragement.

7. Setting Realistic Goals

Achieving Success without Burnout

Set realistic and achievable goals for both academics and athletics. Unrealistic expectations can lead to burnout and stress. Break down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps, celebrating achievements along the way.

8. Incorporating Mental Health Breaks

The Power of Taking Moments for Yourself

Amidst the hectic schedule, prioritize mental health breaks. Whether it's a short walk, deep breathing exercises, or moments of mindfulness, these breaks rejuvenate your mind and enhance overall well-being.

9. Utilizing Mindfulness Techniques

Cultivating Mental Resilience

Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help manage stress and enhance mental resilience. Incorporate these practices into your routine to foster a calm and focused mindset.

10. Seeking Professional Help When Needed

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health Support

There's strength in seeking professional help when needed. Break the stigma surrounding mental health by reaching out to counselors or sport psychologists who specialize in working with student athletes.

11. Nutrition's Impact on Mental Well-being

Fueling Your Body for Optimal Mental Health

Proper nutrition plays a significant role in mental well-being. Ensure your diet includes a balance of nutrients to support cognitive function, mood stability, and overall mental health.

12. Creating a Personalized Self-Care Routine

Tailoring Practices for Your Well-being

Craft a personalized self-care routine that aligns with your preferences and schedule. Whether it's reading, hobbies, or time with loved ones, prioritize activities that bring joy and relaxation.

13. Balancing Competition and Enjoyment

Finding Joy in Your Athletic Pursuits

While competition is inherent in sports, finding joy in your athletic pursuits is equally important. Cultivate a balance between competition and enjoyment to sustain a positive mindset.

14. Maintaining a Growth Mindset

Embracing Challenges as Opportunities

Adopting a growth mindset allows you to view challenges as opportunities for development. Embrace setbacks, learn from them, and use each experience as a stepping stone toward personal and athletic growth.

15. Handling Performance Pressure

Strategies to Cope with High-Stakes Situations

Performance pressure is part of being a student athlete. Develop coping strategies such as visualization, positive self-talk, and focusing on the process rather than outcomes to manage pressure effectively.

Addressing Mental Health in Sports: Knowing Your Limits

One compelling real-world example highlighting the prioritization of mental health is the case of Olympic gymnast Simone Biles during the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. 

In a groundbreaking decision, Biles withdrew from several competitions, citing concerns about her mental well-being and a condition known as the "twisties," a disorienting phenomenon experienced by gymnasts. Despite immense pressure and expectations, Biles demonstrated remarkable courage in openly addressing her mental health struggles and prioritizing her overall well-being over athletic achievement. 

This case serves as a powerful illustration of the importance of acknowledging and addressing mental health challenges, even in the high-stakes and competitive world of elite sports. Biles' decision sparked important conversations about the mental health of athletes, breaking down stigmas and encouraging others to prioritize their psychological well-being without fear of judgment or repercussions.

Contact Performance Psychology Center Today

At Performance Psychology Center, we stand ready to support and empower student athletes in enhancing their mental well-being. Understanding the unique challenges faced by those balancing academics and sports, our sports psychology center in the Bay Area offers a comprehensive array of sports psychology services tailored to foster resilience, mental clarity, and overall success. Whether you're striving to manage stress, boost confidence, or navigate the intricate dynamics of student athlete life, our team is here to guide you. We believe in the transformative power of prioritizing mental health, and our evidence-based strategies aim to equip athletes with the tools they need to thrive both on and off the field. 

If you are a student athlete in the Bay Area seeking to elevate your mental game and unleash your full potential, we invite you to contact us at Performance Psychology Center. Take the first step toward a healthier, more balanced athletic journey by reaching out to learn more about our services and how we can assist you in achieving your mental health goals.

Student athlete playing soccer at school.


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