Sport specialization has been linked to multiple negative health related outcomes including increased injury risk and sport attrition, yet a gap remains in our understanding of potential psychological outcomes of early specialization (≤ age 12). The current study evaluated the associations between retrospective athlete reports of sport specialization and both retroactive and current psychological health outcomes. Early specializers reported significantly higher levels of multiple maladaptive psychological outcomes (e.g., global athlete burnout, emotional and physical exhaustion, sport devaluation, amotivation). Overall, findings suggest that specialization environment factors, in addition to the age of specialization, are potentially critical factors in determining health and well-being outcomes. Findings support prominent position statements suggesting early specialization may be associated with increased health risks. Study findings may also inform the development of guidelines and recommendations to aid parents, coaches, and athletes in positively impacting athlete psychosocial outcomes.
Shelby Waldron, J.D. DeFreese, Brian Pietrosimone, Johna Register-Mihalik, and Nikki Barczak
Shelby J. Martin and Timothy Anderson
Despite elevated risk of eating pathology (EP) among athletes, utilization of EP-treatment among athletes is low. Factors that may inhibit EP-help-seeking among athletes include perceived social stigma, self-stigma, and perfectionism. Heightened stigma associated with EP and sport climates may be exacerbated by negative perfectionism characteristic of athletes and decrease intentions to seek help for EP. We tested the following moderated-mediation model among a sample of collegiate athletes (N = 201) via online questionnaires: EP indirectly relates to EP help-seeking intentions through perceived and self-stigma and these relations are conditional on negative perfectionism. EP help-seeking intentions were negatively associated with EP severity, stigma, and negative perfectionism. EP was related to eating-specific help-seeking intentions through perceived social stigma, influencing self-stigma, but this was not moderated by negative perfectionism. Targeting mental-health treatment stigma among athletes may reduce risk of untreated EP among collegiate athletes.
Fleur E.C.A. van Rens and Edson Filho
The purpose of this study was to explore the career transition experiences of elite gymnasts who became professional circus artists. Eight (inter)national level gymnasts who worked as circus artists were interviewed. Using a constructionist approach to thematic data analysis, we identified a three-phase career transition process. High levels of psychological resilience characteristics were required in the first, “realizing” phase (i.e., motivation, hard work, social support, and optimism). The second, “adapting” phase involved balancing context-specific demands which included general stress, a loss of competence, social adjustment, taking calculated risks, and physical recovery. The third, “thriving” phase involved experiences of freedom, personal development, and social connectedness. During the career transition, changes from an athletic to circus artist identity were experienced. Practitioners are encouraged to support the psychological resilience and experiences of autonomy among circus artists during their career transitions. This is expected to facilitate circus artists’ wellbeing, safety, and career longevity.
Robin S. Vealey, Nick Galli, and Robert J. Harmison
In this commentary, we respond to Scherzer and Reel’s concerns over the Certified Mental Performance Consultant® (CMPC®) certification program requirements, particularly the certification exam. A reframing is suggested, in which the exam and recertification requirements are viewed as exciting historical milestones and an opportunity for individual professional growth as opposed to a personal inconvenience. In addition, some historical context and rationale for specific aspects of the CMPC certification program are provided, including the rationale for the CMPC credential.
Emily Kroshus, Sara P.D. Chrisman, David Coppel, and Stanley Herring
This study sought to identify factors that influence whether coaches support athletes struggling with depression and anxiety. Participants were U.S. public high school coaches who completed a written survey assessing their experiences, attitudes, and behaviors related to student-athlete mental health (n = 190 coaches, 92% response rate). Around two-thirds of coaches were concerned about mental health issues among the students they coached. They were more likely to extend help to a struggling athlete if they were aware of their school’s mental health plan and had greater confidence related to helping, including feeling confident in their ability to identify symptoms of mental health disorders. Mental health professionals, including sport psychologists who work with or consult with coaches, are well positioned to help provide coaches with the education necessary to be able to support and encourage care seeking by athletes who are struggling with anxiety or depression.
Florence Lebrun, Áine MacNamara, Dave Collins, and Sheelagh Rodgers
Little is known about the coping strategies used by elite athletes suffering from mental health issues. Therefore, this study examined coping strategies implemented by elite athletes facing clinical depression. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four elite athletes and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA). Results present a broad picture of how elite athletes tried to cope with depression using a range of coping strategies. Among the different strategies highlighted, talking, seeking professional help and social support were particularly emphasized by the participants. Surprisingly, however, only one participant reported transferring the skills and strategies learned on her way to the top to many other aspects of her everyday life such as coping with her depression. Findings, therefore, suggest that athletes should be encouraged to transfer and make the most of the skills learned throughout their sport career to deal with their daily life. Future research perspectives and implications are discussed.
Philp Sullivan, Jessica Murphy, and Mishka Blacker
Mental health literacy (MHL), the knowledge and attitudes that aid in recognition, management and prevention of mental health issues, could help maintain positive mental health within the athletic community. As coaches and athletic therapists (ATs) frequently and routinely interact with athletes, this study focused on the MHL of these individuals. Eighty participants (24 females, 54 males; 57 coaches, 18 ATs) completed an on-line version of the MHL Scale. Average MHL score was 131.48, which, is relatively equal to scores seen in university students and a general population. No significant difference was detected between coaches and ATs but females reported significantly higher MHL scores than males. There was a significant negative correlation between MHL and total experience. These results have potentially strong clinical ramifications as increased MHL in this context can affect facilitators and barriers towards seeking help in a high-risk population.
Hannah Butler-Coyne, Vaithehy Shanmuganathan-Felton, and Jamie Taylor
Equestrian media is showing an increasing interest in the impact of mental health on performance and general wellbeing of equestrian athletes. This study explores the awareness of mental health difficulties and psychological wellbeing within equestrian sport from the perspectives of equestrian athletes, instructors/coaches and parents. The exploratory nature of the research offered opportunity to use a dual approach including e-surveys and semi-structured interviews. Analysis of the qualitative data identified five key themes (Emotional Wellbeing in Balance; Emotional Wellbeing Imbalance; Wellbeing Imbalance—Impact on Equestrian Sportspeople; Impact of Equestrian Sport on Wellbeing; Regaining Balance) and 22 sub-themes. The findings determine a compelling need for education, promotion of sharing experiences, facilitation of specialist (clinical and sport) professional training and intervention as well as a review of regulations from equestrian Governing Bodies.
Sara L. Giovannetti, Jessica R.G. Robertson, Heather L. Colquhoun, and Cindy K. Malachowski
University student-athletes are equally vulnerable to mental health challenges compared to their non-athlete peers, but they access mental health services with less frequency. This study sought to explore the mental health issues experienced by Canadian student-athletes in order to address the question: how can Canadian universities better meet the mental health needs of student-athletes? An electronic survey was distributed to student-athletes at a large Canadian university. Data from 113 respondents were analyzed using descriptive statistics and content analysis. Stress and pressure were reported as the most prevalent contributors to mental health issues, and 47% of respondents indicated that there was a time in which they wanted to seek services for their mental health, but chose not to. Respondents identified mental health education for coaches and designating a healthcare professional within the athletic department as beneficial resources. Findings from this study can inform local and national mental health service planning for student-athletes.