How Does Mental Health Affect Athletic Sports Performance?

We’ve discussed the potential for negative effects of competitive sports on mental health at both a youth and elite level. However, it’s also important to examine how underlying mental health problems can greatly affect athletic performance, causing loss of motivation, lack of focus, poor achievement and, in some cases, sports injuries. By understanding these implications, athletes and coaches can take steps to mitigate and manage the symptoms and effects. 

In this article, we explore how common mental health conditions – stress, anxiety, depression, gambling addiction, gaming disorder, PTSD and eating disorders – can impact athletic performance, and where to get specialist treatment.

Common Mental Health Conditions That Affect Athletic Sports Performance and Where to Get Immediate Counseling


Due to conflicting demands, athletes can neglect stress management and self-care practices to focus on their sporting commitments. Stress can affect athletic performance in a number of ways. The stress caused by the pressures of competing can impact sleep quality and quantity, and lack of sleep can make it more difficult to cope with stress inside and outside of sport. Stress can also reduce focus and increase muscle tension, thus predisposing athletes to injury – and sporting injury is a significant stressor in itself. During rehabilitation, injured athletes can experience isolation, anxiety, depression, and fear of recurring injury or being dropped from the team. Read about the 30 Signs of Stress: Effects, Causes and Treatment.


Performance anxiety is common in sport, it is a normal reaction to the pressures of competing. And, to some extent, it can help athletes focus their energy and attention on the game or match. However, there is a point at which anxiety stops being beneficial and starts to impede sporting performance. It can affect athletes’ self-confidence and concentration, causing their actions to become disjointed and erratic which can lead to even greater anxiety and self-doubt. If left untreated, sport-related anxiety can continue to negatively impact athletic performance during training sessions and competitions, heighten the risk of injury, hinder the rehabilitation and return-to-sport process, and increase the chance of reinjury. Find out more about the 6 Types of Anxiety Disorders.


Depression can affect an athlete’s ability to function in several ways. When getting out of bed and completing basic daily tasks becomes a major struggle, showing up for training and competitions can seem like an insurmountable challenge. Symptoms of depression can include changes in weight and appetite. A well-balanced diet is important for athletic performance, and inadequate or excessive calories and nutrients can take a significant toll. Loss of interest in activities is another symptom of depression and athletes who are not interested in their sport do not perform well. Those suffering from depression can also experience disrupted sleep patterns. Athletes need to be well-rested to have the energy and focus required to perform. There are also physical effects of depression – aches, pains and cramps – that can make training and competing difficult. Depression is a particularly dangerous mental health condition because if left untreated it can escalate to suicidal thoughts and attempts. Discover the 6 Types of Depression.

Gambling Addiction and Gaming Disorder

Gambling addiction and gaming disorder can significantly inhibit athletic performance. As those affected become increasingly consumed by gambling and gaming, they will have less and less time to dedicate to sports practice and competitions. This will quickly impact their performance, and potentially create conflict with teammates and coaches, and cause co-existing mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression. Problematic gambling and gaming often cause financial issues as the sufferer slides further into debt to feed their habit. Gamblers can start to chase losses in an attempt to recoup the money they have lost but this is rarely a successful strategy. Gamers can become addicted to loot boxes, esports betting and skins gambling. These financial problems can affect sports performance if athletes are worried and unable to focus. They may also struggle to afford everything needed to perform at their best such as training and competition fees, sports equipment, and the cost of traveling to matches. Read more about The Impact of Problematic Gambling and Gaming on Mental Health and Well-Being

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Athletes can be affected by traumatic experiences that may have occurred at any time in their lives and these can trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Within the sporting environment, injuries are one type of traumatic event that can cause PTSD. Trauma affects performance in a number of ways. Athletes may have flashbacks, nightmares or distressing thoughts, which can feel like re-living the traumatic experience. This can impact their ability to focus and perform to the best of their ability. Athletes also may experience avoidance symptoms, where they stay away from people or places that remind them of their trauma. This may limit where they are prepared to go and what activities they are willing to take part in which can impact sports practice and competition. People suffering from PTSD can also have negative thoughts and angry outbursts which may affect their relationships with teammates and coaches, and have trouble sleeping and concentrating. Without treatment, PTSD can significantly affect their emotional well-being and athletic performance. Find out more about PTSD: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders – including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder – are serious mental illnesses which disproportionally affect athletes. The negative impacts of eating disorders on sports performance are far-reaching. Athletes who are not fueled properly are unable to perform well as their energy expenditure exceeds their energy intake. They may experience fatigue, struggle to concentrate and have impaired judgement. Another consequence of eating disorders is an increased risk of sports injury and non-healing injuries due to low bone density and malnutrition. Death is another risk of eating disorders for athletes – either due to complications associated with malnutrition or through suicide.

Find a Mental Health Therapist Today

Poor mental health can have a significant impact on an athlete’s ability to perform in their sport. If you, or someone you care about, are experiencing any of the psychological challenges outlined above – or any other mental health conditions – it is important to seek help.

At Kindbridge, we are experts at counseling athletes and anyone in their sporting, social or family circle who is impacted by their mental health problems. Our highly-qualified therapists provide personalized and confidential online treatment in the comfort of your home.

Call +1 (877) 426-4258 or email [email protected] today to speak to our care co-ordinator.