Out Of Bounds
Fighting the stigma of mental health issues among young athletes
It’s For The Love of the Game
The love of the game is what unites all athletes, from pre-school to high school, college to the professional leagues. But there’s another thing they may have in common – the often-invisible struggle with mental health.
Over just the past few years that issue has gained more universal attention due to the courage of stars like Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, and Mardy Fish. By telling the stories of their own personal battles they’ve shined a light into the dark corners of a problem many athletes were afraid to discuss in the past out of fear of appearing weak or damaged or not a team player.
But the feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, anxiety, depression, even thoughts of suicide don’t have an age limit. Young athletes are experiencing many of the same crippling emotions.
One recent study by the National Institutes of Health states student athletes experience similar mental health concerns as their non-athletic peers, but they also “have to balance academics with rigorous training regiments while focusing on optimal performance and managing high expectations.”
And if they’re sidelined because of an injury or poor performance, the pressure and dismay can become even worse. “An athlete whose identity is strongly tied to their sport,” says Claudia Reardon and Robert Factor in Sports Medicine, “is also at higher risk for developing mental health concerns, especially when experiencing injury.”
The mental health of young athletes is a relatively new field of study, but there’s one thing all the psychiatrists and psychologists and researchers agree on: it should no longer be ignored. This website is focused on us, the young people who want to stay healthy in mind, body and soul while enjoying the sports we love. In it you will find stories you might relate to, advice for you and your coaches and parents, resources to get more answers and help, and a community of like-minded athletes who are experiencing the same things you are.
This is for you. Join the team.
Discussing how we feel emotionally as well as physically can no longer be considered Out of Bounds.
First, let me tell you a little about myself.
- Many athletes after an injury will begin to believe that they might never get back to the sport they play
- They feel a loss of identity when they’re not able to play their sport
- Overtraining can lead to a lack of rest, which is extremely important for athletes
- They start to become exhausted much quicker, both physically and mentally
- This can cause great strain in the athlete’s mental wellbeing
Social Media Scrutiny
- Many athletes have found themselves in social media posts or articles, being scrutinized or harassed for not performing well
- This can take a toll on the athlete’s confidence
- They might feel isolated and lonely, almost as if the world is against them
- Many athletes put too much pressure on themselves to perform
- This pressure is so extreme that when they don’t perform (which will happen) they punish themselves or feel a sense of disappointment
- This causes athletes to have unhealthy outlooks on themselves
Coach & Parent Pressure
- Parents and coaches are supposed to be the primary source of support for athletes
- When this support becomes pressure, that’s where athletes find themselves playing to make these people proud instead of for themselves
- This takes the joy out of the sport and makes it feel like a chore or responsibility
Why mental health gets overlooked
- Prioritizing physical health over mental health
- Not balancing training and rest
- Misdiagnosing depression as overtraining symptoms
- Athletes are told to “get over it” by their coaches or parents in order to perform better
- Student-athletes are seen as the “dumb jock” in movies or TV shows, who don’t have a worry in the world
- Many athletes are also focused on their school work piled on top of intensive and exhausting training
- Movies and tv shows with these portrayals can be very dangerous because it makes us disregard the mental struggles that many athletes go through
“It’s not nothing I’m against or ashamed of. Now, at my age, I understand how many people go through it. Even if it’s just somebody can look at it like, ‘He goes through it and he’s still out there being successful and doing this,’ I’m OK with that.”
—DeMar DeRozan, professional basketball player
“I hit an all-time low. I didn’t leave the house. I was in a complete depression. It took putting one foot in front of the other every single day to get through it to the point where I made it back on the team and won a gold medal in 2008. You’re always going to survive the pain of loss. I can live with that confidence inside of me.”
— Hope Solo, 2-time Olympic champion soccer player
“For anyone who hasn’t had it happen to them, they don’t understand how deep and how dark it is. It consumes you. It’s not just on the field. It never goes away. … It’s this ongoing battle with your own brain. You know what you want to do — in your heart. But your body and brain won’t let you do it.”
– Rick Ankiel, former Major League Baseball pitcher
“When I first heard the term ‘mental health,’ the first thing that came to mind was mental toughness. Masking pain. Hiding it. Keeping it inside. That had been embedded in me since I was a kid. Never show weakness. Suck it up. Play through it. Live through it. Now, I realize that mental health means the total opposite.”
You’re Not Alone
former professional tennis player
“We’re so trained to be ‘mentally tough,’ in sports. To show weakness, we’re told, in so many words, is to deserve shame. But I am here to show weakness. And I am not ashamed.”
Mardy Fish, a former top-10 tennis player, had gone through mental health struggles when he was a top athlete. He dealt with anxiety and panic attacks. Here’s his story.
7-time Olympic Medalist
‘The word ‘champion’ used to just mean being on top or breaking records,’ she tells Good Housekeeping. ‘Now it means being vulnerable, showing your inner strength, being courageous.’”
“As an athlete, you need to protect your mind and your body, rather just go out there and do what the world wants us to do and potentially injuring yourself. I had to put myself above all else.” Simone’s story.
4-time grand slam-winning tennis professional
“I get really nervous and find it stressful to always engage and give you the best answers I can,” Osaka wrote in her announcement on Instagram. “So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.” Yet she was fined $15,000 for not attending a press conference in Paris.
28-time Olympic medalist swimmer
“For those who are struggling with mental health, know you’re not alone: There are days where I want to curl up into a ball and sit in the corner. But it’s just taking a little step forward, taking a deep breath from time to time. It really helps.”
mixed martial arts champion
“[We need to take] the stigma away and [make] it actually acceptable for people to talk about and look for help and not feel ashamed of themselves for it. I think that [dialogue] should be encouraged. It’s something real people are going through.”
For Parents & Coaches
Read the player
- If they’re too hard on themself
- If they don’t enjoy playing
- If they have a lot going on at that moment that isn’t sports related
Ask them how they really feel
- Get a clear and genuine answer
Be willing to make a change
- Give them a break or some rest
- Maybe they don’t want to play the sport anymore, give them the option and choice of what to do
Don't push them too hard
- Can cause a burn-out
- Can lead to them not enjoying the sport anymore
- Can make them resent you
If they talk about it or mention it, listen
- Being there and listening supportively