Athletes at Risk of More Than Physical Injury

Once an athlete begins to compete at an elite level, risk assessments are conducted to some extent. This may be done voluntarily by oneself, or through their respective athletic organizations. The latter becomes common as an athlete moves on from high-school through to collegiate and ultimately professional sports. While risk assessments provide valuable insights into the physical wellness of athletes, they rarely consider deeper underlying concerns. In other words, athletes are at risk of more than a torn ACL – they face tremendous mental and behavioral health challenges too. And you’d better believe that this impacts them on the court, track, and field as much as it does in their social and familial life. Moving forward, Kindbridge recommends that athletes in addition to the organizations behind them consider mental health when creating a risk assessment strategy.

Why Athlete Risk Assessments Must Also Consider Mental Health and Wellness in 2024 and Beyond


Elite athletes at a high-school, collegiate, and professional level in America are constantly under the gun to perform. Overtraining often ensues and a significant number begin to burnout. An NCAA study found that between 25-30% of surveyed athletes report feeling mentally exhausted and extremely overwhelmed. Signs and symptoms of burnout include (but are not exclusive to) the following:

  • Diminished or plateaued strength and stamina
  • Chronic fatigue
  • High resting heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Cognitive impairment (difficulty concentrating, poor memory recall, etc.)
  • Compromised immune system (and subsequent illnesses)
  • Emotional impairment such as loss of interest, moodiness, and irritability
  • Stress, anxiety and depression

Burnout not only impacts an athlete’s ability to perform in sports and other aspects of life (studies, etc.) it can cause them to walk away from sport altogether. One study found that 70% of youth quit sports due to burnout. All elite athletes can be considered at risk for this syndrome, and should be afforded access to early intervention therapy. View more on how mental health support is critical to the treatment and prevention of athlete burnout.

Common Mental Health Concerns Faced by Athletes

In addition to mental exhaustion associated with burnout, there are other common mental health concerns that should be added to athlete risk assessments. These include the following:

  • Anxiety disorder (nearly 30% of female athletes suffer from anxiety)
  • Depression (between 6-9% of male and female athletes suffer from debilitating depression)
  • Stress (85% of female and 95% of male athletes have higher stress levels compared to 52% of non-athlete students)
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders (up to 84% of college student athletes engage in disordered eating!)

View more on these common mental and behavioral health challenges that should be factored into athlete risk assessments.

Sex Related Addictions

Lamar Odom and Tiger Woods (who sought therapy) are two figureheads who shined a spotlight on athlete sex addiction – also known as sexual behavior disorder – which is marked by “a compulsive, uncontrollable and continuous sexual behavior irrespective of its adverse effects or consequences”. Elite athletes are generally in a position to be act on these impulses at will. This “access” can send them deeper down a hole of despair if not given the opportunity to escape its grip through readily available counseling. And while more research needs to be done, there is evidence to suggest that athletes may also have a more problematic relationship with pornography (and respective consequences) when compared to the general population. Assessing risk early in their athletic careers can pave the way for early intervention education and prevention strategies.

Problem Gambling and Gaming

Research finds that instances of problem gambling (also known as gambling disorder) in athletes are significantly greater than with the general public. Further, it’s reasonable to consider some of the same gambling motivations that make competitive athletes more vulnerable to gambling disorder to draw general conclusions about a potential predisposition to video gaming disorder. Once again, assessing risk early in one’s athletic career can pave the way for early intervention and prevention.

The New Threat of Violence from Sports Bettors

There’s another athlete risk that comes with the above-mentioned problem gambling crisis in America. When the federal government removed the ban on sports betting in 2018, they opened the gateway to a new threat to elite athletes; harassment and the threat of violence from angry gamblers. There has been an uptick in threats against athletes, especially at a collegiate level where players are more accessible to the public. And while the threat of physical violence is real, collegiate athletes being harassed and threatened online are already feeling the pain in the form of added anxiety and stress. And if anyone is tempted to chalk this concern up to hyperbole, please note that the threat is real enough for the FBI to get involved. Athletes at risk of this threat require more than security detail – they need mental health support too.

Kindbridge is America’s mental health support provider for elite athletes and the organizations behind them. We work with the NCAA, the NFLPA’s PAFNASCAR, and a variety other leagues and organizations in addition to individual athletes and their families. We can assist in creating a program that assesses the mental and behavioral health risks of athletes and to treat existing disorders. As a result, athletes will be better prepared to navigate ALL of the risks they face, and achieve more holistic health and wellness.

Concerned Athletes, Athletic Organizations, and Institutions

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

Match Fixing Betting on Athlete Mental Health Vulnerability