This is a major warning sign an athlete is dealing with poor mental health

STAFFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — From little league to the Super Bowl, athletics at any level can be stressful and psychologically challenging. Athletes are expected to perform when it matters most and be at their best when the game is on the line — and that’s whole lot of pressure for anyone to handle. If there’s an athlete in your life, researchers suggest looking out for one key warning sign of potentially poor mental health: put-down language.

In simpler terms, phrases reflecting self-depreciating beliefs like “if I lose, I’m a failure” or “if I face setbacks, it shows how stupid I am,” are examples of put-down language. A team of sports psychology experts from Staffordshire University and Manchester Metropolitan University analyzed over 400 athletes playing a variety of sports and levels of experience for this project.

Irrational beliefs can lead to depression

Their findings indicate that athletes’ belief systems, more specifically irrational beliefs, have a connection to poorer self-confidence, and consequently, greater competitive anxiety and depressive symptoms.

“Despite the psychological benefits of physical activity, studies frequently report poor mental health in athletes, which may be exacerbated by adversities, such as injury, de-selection, and performance pressure,” says Paul Mansell, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Staffordshire University, in a university release.

“We investigated athletes’ beliefs, how they view stress, their levels of self-confidence and put all this data together to work out what might predict psychological wellbeing. We found irrational beliefs to be a core reason for symptoms of poor mental health manifesting in athletes.”

This is the first study ever to simultaneously assess the irrational beliefs, self-confidence, and psychological well-being of athletes. Researchers defined irrational beliefs as extreme, rigid, and illogical ideas that people maintain. For instance, an athlete might believe that they “must” get what they want, or that just because they have failed, that they are a “complete failure.”

“In our recent study, self-depreciation beliefs were found to be the main predictor of low self-confidence. In simple terms, when an athlete put themselves down and uses language like ‘If I lose, it means I am a failure’ it is most damaging and most likely to lead to losses of confidence. This is then likely to have a knock-on effect on performance and wellbeing,” explains Dr. Martin Turner from Manchester Metropolitan University.

“We can all work to help athletes develop mindsets that help them deal with the challenges of sport and life. By encouraging rational and logical beliefs about performance, we can help athletes to stay healthy amidst the high demands of competitive sport.”

Therapy can help athletes get in the right frame of mind

In conclusion, the research team proposes Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) as an effective tool for maintaining strong self-confidence. REBT helps athletes develop healthier and more helpful self-beliefs, all while challenging any self-depreciating beliefs they may have already formed. For example, athletes are taught to avoid thoughts like “I am a failure if I fail,” in favor of something more like “failing is not ideal, but it does not mean that I am failure.”

“The good news is that irrational beliefs can be challenged and weakened. A coach, teammate or a sports psychologist can listen out for irrational belief phrases and help athletes to counter them. Promoting helpful ‘self-talk’ or imagery can really help to shift somebody’s mindset from being rigid and illogical to being more rational, flexible and healthy,” Paul concludes.

The study is published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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