Collegiate Athletes’ Perceptions of the Connection Between Mental Health and Sport Performance: A Qualitative Investigation

Click name to view affiliation

Kelzie E. Beebe Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Kelzie E. Beebe in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9294-4233 *
,
Trent A. Petrie Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Trent A. Petrie in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Heather R. Kiefer Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Heather R. Kiefer in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Lindsey E. Slavin Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Lindsey E. Slavin in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6957-0322
, and
Macey L. Arnold Department of Psychology, University of North Texas, Denton, TX, USA

Search for other papers by Macey L. Arnold in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Restricted access

Prevalence of mental health (MH) concerns among young adults is high and continues to increase. As a specific subset of young adults, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes seem to experience these concerns at a similar or greater prevalence rate than their nonathlete, age-matched peers. Yet, how MH affects sport performance has not been robustly studied, and existing studies have not included the diversity of identities present in the collegiate athlete population. Thus, via online survey, this study explored the beliefs of 249 collegiate athletes representing diverse identities and sports regarding how MH affects sport performance. Regardless of demographic variable, 96.4%–100.0% of participants believed that MH affects sport performance. Three themes were identified: (a) collegiate athletes affirm that MH affects sport performance, (b) collegiate athletes’ perceptions of how MH affects sport performance, and (c) collegiate athletes believe that being a collegiate athlete exacerbates their MH concerns. The universality of endorsement and the themes represent novel findings that warrant further exploration of the MH–sport performance connection.

  • Collapse
  • Expand
  • Arnold, R., & Fletcher, D. (2012). A research synthesis and taxonomic classification of the organizational stressors encountered by sport performers. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 34(3), 397429. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.34.3.397

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Braun, V., Clarke, V., & Weate, P. (2016). Using thematic analysis in sport and exercise research. In B. Smith & A.C. Sparkes (Eds.), Routledge handbook of qualitative research in sport and exercise (pp. 191205). Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chang, C., Putukian, M., Aerni, G., Diamond, A., Hong, G., Ingram, Y., Reardon, C.L., & Wolanin, A. (2020). Mental health issues and psychological factors in athletes: Detection, management, effect on performance and prevention: American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement—Full statement. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 30(2), e61e87. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSM.0000000000000817

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Chow, G.M., Bird, M.D., Gabana, N.T., Cooper, B.T., & Swanbrow Becker, M.A. (2020). A program to reduce stigma toward mental illness and promote mental health literacy and help-seeking in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I student-athletes. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 15(3), 185205. https://doi.org/10.1123/jcsp.2019-0104

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cox, C.E., Ross-Stewart, L., & Foltz, B.D. (2017). Investigating the prevalence and risk factors of depression symptoms among NCAA Division I collegiate athletes. Journal of Sports Science, 5(1), 1428.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Davoren, A.K., & Hwang, S. (2014). Depression and anxiety prevalence in student-athletes. In G.T. Brown, B. Hainline, E. Kroshus, & M. Wilfert (Eds.), Mind, body and sport: Understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness (pp. 3839). National Collegiate Athletic Association.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Doherty, S., Hannigan, B., & Campbell, M.J. (2016). The experience of depression during the careers of elite male athletes. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, Article 1069. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01069

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Donohue, B., Gavrilova, Y., Galante, M., Gavrilova, E., Loughran, T., Scott, J., Chow, G., Plant, C.P., & Allen, D.N. (2018). Controlled evaluation of an optimization approach to mental health and sport performance. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 12(2), 234267. https://doi.org/10.1123/jcsp.2017-0054

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ellis, A. (1957). Rational psychotherapy and individual psychology. Journal of Individual Psychology, 13, 3844.

  • Etzel, E.F., Watson, J.C., Visek, A.J., & Maniar, S.D. (2006). Understanding and promoting college student-athlete health: Essential issues for student affairs professionals. NASPA Journal, 43(3), 518546. https://doi.org/10.2202/1949-6605.1682

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 13(5), 669678. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.04.007

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Freeman, P. (2021). Social support. In R. Arnold & D. Fletcher (Eds.), Stress, well-being, and performance in sport (pp. 240258). Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gardner, F.L., & Moore, Z.E. (2007). The psychology of human performance: The mindfulness-acceptance-commitment approach. Springer.

  • Gouttebarge, V., Castaldelli-Maia, J.M., Gorczynski, P., Hainline, B., Hitchcock, M.E., Kerkhoffs, G.M., Rice, S.M., & Reardon, C.L. (2019). Occurrence of mental health symptoms and disorders in current and former elite athletes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(11), 700706. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2019-100671

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Graupensperger, S., Benson, A.J., Kilmer, J.R., & Evans, M.B. (2020). Social (un) distancing: Teammate interactions, athletic identity, and mental health of student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Adolescent Health, 67(5), 662670. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2020.08.001

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gross, M., Moore, Z.E., Gardner, F.L., Wolanin, A.T., Pess, R., & Marks, D.R. (2018). An empirical examination comparing the mindfulness-acceptance-commitment approach and psychological skills training for the mental health and sport performance of female student athletes. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 16(4), 431451. https://doi.org/10.1080/1612197X.2016.1250802

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K.M., & Christensen, H. (2012). Barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking for young elite athletes: A qualitative study. BMC Psychiatry, 12(1), Article 157. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-12-157

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hanin, Y.L. (1978). A study of anxiety in sports. In W.F. Straub (Ed.), Sport psychology: An analysis of athlete behavior (pp. 256249). Movement Publications.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hanin, Y.L. (1997). Emotions and athletic performance: Individual zones of optimal functioning model. In A. Szabo, R. Frenkl, A. Caputo, & R. Seiler (Eds.), European yearbook of sport psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 2972). FEPSAC.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hanin, Y.L. (2000). Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning (IZOF) model: Emotion-performance relationships in sport. In Y.L. Hanin (Ed.), Emotions in sport (pp. 6593). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hays, K., Thomas, O., Maynard, I., & Bawden, M. (2009). The role of confidence in world-class sport performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(11), 11851199. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640410903089798

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jones, A.L., Butryn, T.M., Furst, D.M., & Semerjian, T. (2014). A phenomenological examination of depression in female collegiate athletes. Athletic Insight, 5(1), 120.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jorm, A.F., Korten, A.E., Jacomb, P.A., Christensen, H., Rodgers, B., & Pollitt, P. (1997). “Mental health literacy”: A survey of the public’s ability to recognise mental disorders and their beliefs about the effectiveness of treatment. Medical Journal of Australia, 166(4), 182186. https://doi.org/10.5694/j.1326-5377.1997.tb140071.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kerr, G., & Leith, L. (1993). Stress management and athletic performance. The Sport Psychologist, 7(3), 221231. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.7.3.221

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lebrun, F., MacNamara, À., Rodgers, S., & Collins, D. (2018). Learning from elite athletes’ experience of depression. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, Article 2062. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02062

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • López, R.L., & Levy, J.J. (2013). Student athletes’ perceived barriers to and preferences for seeking counseling. Journal of College Counseling, 16(1), 1931. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1882.2013.00024.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Maughan, R.J., & Shirreffs, S.M. (2012). Nutrition for sports performance: Issues and opportunities. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71(1), 112119. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665111003211

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Moreland, J.J., Coxe, K.A., & Yang, J. (2018). Collegiate athletes’ mental health services utilization: A systematic review of conceptualizations, operationalizations, facilitators, and barriers. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 7(1), 5869. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2017.04.009

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Morgan, W.P. (1985). Selected psychological factors limiting performance: A mental health model. In D.H. Clarke & H.M. Eckert (Eds.), Limits of human performance (pp. 7080). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Morgan, W.P., Brown, D.R., Raglin, J.S., O’Connor, P.J., & Ellickson, K.A. (1987). Psychological monitoring of overtraining and staleness. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 21(3), 107114. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.21.3.107

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). (2016, January). Inter-association consensus document: Mental health best practices for understanding and supporting student-athlete mental wellness. https://www.ncaa.org/sports/2016/5/2/mental-health-best-practices.aspx

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). (2022, May). NCAA student-athlete well-being study. https://www.ncaa.org/news/2022/5/24/media-center-mental-health-issues-remain-on-minds-of-student-athletes.aspx

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). (2021, January). Mental illness. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • O’Grady, P. (2002). Ontological relativism. In P. O’Grady (Ed.), Relativisim (Vol. 5, pp. 5388). McGill-Queen’s Press-MQUP.

  • Papathomas, A., Petrie, T.A., & Plateau, C.R. (2018). Changes in body image perceptions upon leaving elite sport: The retired female athlete paradox. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 7(1), 3045. https://doi.org/10.1037/spy0000111

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Purcell, R., Gwyther, K., & Rice, S.M. (2019). Mental health in elite athletes: Increased awareness requires an early intervention framework to respond to athlete needs. Sports Medicine—Open, 5(1), Article 46. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-019-0220-1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Raglin, J.S. (2001). Psychological factors in sport performance. Sports Medicine, 31(12), 875890. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200131120-00004

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reardon, C.L., Hainline, B., Aron, C.M., Baron, D., Baum, A.L., Bindra, A., Budgett, R., Campriani, N., Castaldelli-Maia, J.M., Currie, A., Derevensky, J.L., Glick, I.D., Gorczynski, P., Gouttebarge, V., Grandner, M.A., Han, D.H., McDuff, D., Mountjoy, M., Polat, A., . . . Engebretsen, L. (2019). Mental health in elite athletes: International Olympic Committee consensus statement. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(11), 667699. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2019-100715

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rice, S.M., Purcell, R., De Silva, S., Mawren, D., McGorry, P.D., & Parker, A.G. (2016). The mental health of elite athletes: A narrative systematic review. Sports Medicine, 46(9), 13331353. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0492-2

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schinke, R.J., Stambulova, N.B., Si, G., & Moore, Z. (2018). International society of sport psychology position stand: Athletes’ mental health, performance, and development. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 16(6), 622639. https://doi.org/10.1080/1612197X.2017.1295557

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sievert, E. (2022). Mental health and performance: Narratives of Swedish elite tennis players [Master’s thesis, Halmstad University]. Diva-Portal.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Steinfeldt, J.A., Steinfeldt, M.C., England, B., & Speight, Q.L. (2009). Gender role conflict and stigma toward help-seeking among college football players. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 10(4), 261272. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0017223

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sullivan, M., Moore, M., Blom, L.C., & Slater, G. (2020). Relationship between social support and depressive symptoms in collegiate student athletes. Journal for the Study of Sports and Athletes in Education, 14(3), 192209. https://doi.org/10.1080/19357397.2020.1768034

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Swann, C., Moran, A., & Piggott, D. (2015). Defining elite athletes: Issues in the study of expert performance in sport psychology. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 314. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.07.004

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Van Slingerland, K.J., Durand-Bush, N., Bradley, L., Goldfield, G., Archambault, R., Smith, D., Edwards, C., Delenardo, S., Taylor, S., Werthner, P., & Kenttä, G. (2019). Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Sport (CCMHS) position statement: Principles of mental health in competitive and high-performance sport. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 29(3), 173180. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSM.0000000000000665

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weigand, S., Cohen, J., & Merenstein, D. (2013). Susceptibility for depression in current and retired student athletes. Sports Health, 5(3), 263266. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738113480464

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wilkerson, T.A., Stokowski, S., Fridley, A., Dittmore, S.W., & Bell, C.A. (2020). Black football student-athletes’ perceived barriers to seeking mental health services. Journal of Issues in Intercollegiate Athletics, 5581.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wolanin, A., Hong, E., Marks, D., Panchoo, K., & Gross, M. (2016). Prevalence of clinically elevated depressive symptoms in college athletes and differences by gender and sport. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(3), 167171. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2015-095756

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wolanin, A.T. (2005). Mindfulness-acceptance-commitment (MAC) based performance enhancement for division I collegiate athletes: A preliminary investigation. Dissertation Abstracts International-B, 65, 37353794.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wood, A.G., Barker, J.B., & Turner, M.J. (2016). Developing performance using rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT): A case study with an elite archer. The Sport Psychologist, 31(1), 7887. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.2015-0083

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wulf, G. (2013). Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 6(1), 77104. https://doi.org/10.1080/1750984X.2012.723728

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Yang, J., Peek-Asa, C., Corlette, J. D., Cheng, G., Foster, D.T., & Albright, J. (2007). Prevalence of and risk factors associated with symptoms of depression in competitive collegiate student athletes. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 17(6), 481487. https://doi.org/10.1097/JSM.0b013e31815aed6b

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 2192 2192 398
Full Text Views 2467 2467 186
PDF Downloads 169 169 38