Tag: Mental Health

All performers have the goal of reaching their potential and performing to the best of their abilities. A lot of time and effort is spent learning the physical techniques and skills that are required for sport. While the physical part of sport is highly important, peak performance can’t take place without a strong mental base. 

Just as physical and mental performance go hand-in-hand, so do mental performance and mental health. One in four people struggle with their mental health; four out of four people have mental health. Having strong mental wellness is required to reach peak performance on the playing field. Our team at Premier Sport Psychology often explains this relationship to athletes by using the wellness continuum.

The Wellness Continuum- What is it?
There are two ends of the spectrum on the Wellness Continuum; on the left is performance restoration, which refers to mental health struggles or concerns. On the right is performance optimization, which is your athletic performance. To achieve performance optimization you must capitalize on your performance restoration. Mental health is the base that is needed to move further right on the continuum. In other words, developing a strong foundation in mental restoration opens the door for strong mental performance. 

Let’s break it down…

Performance Restoration
The far left side of the wellness continuum deals with mental health concerns. Regardless of whether you have a mental health diagnosis, all athletes and humans experience times where their mental health is not as strong as they’d like it to be. Things that cause your mental health to suffer such as burnout, anxiety, depression, or injury recovery all fall on this side of the continuum.

“If our mindset is in the restoration phase, there is likely something we need to address first before moving into mental performance skills,” Premier’s Dr. Adam Gallenberg says. “These could be things like chronic stress and underlying anxiety.”

Gallenberg likens the scenario to how an athlete would treat recovery from an injury. 

“It is comparable to an injury. Before we can work on mental performance skills like focus or imagery, the injury needs to be addressed first. Like an injury, we locate and address what the cause is.” 

“Even if you are physically healthy, stressors that don’t get addressed and keep piling on can cause a person to be mentally exhausted,” Gallenberg says. “This does not allow our body to perform the way it can.”

All humans have days and periods of time where their mental health isn’t as strong as they’d like it to be. On both good days and bad, proactive mental health care is essential to maximizing performance restoration.” One of the most important proactive mental health care practices is identifying your support system.. If you notice that your mental health is beginning to decline, reaching out for help can get you back to a good spot. Typical treatment for this stage can include counseling or mental health interventions to not only address symptoms, but identify where they are stemming from.

Normal/Average Life Functioning
The middle of the continuum deals with day-to-day issues or tasks that are present. This section includes things such as relationships, friend or family issues/drama, and life transitions.

“Awareness is a key skill across the continuum,” Gallenberg says. “It is especially important when it comes to average life functioning because we can track our internal and external experiences day to day.”

Being aware of what you are experiencing internally and comparing it to what is happening externally is a good way to ground yourself. If you are feeling anxious or frustrated, think about what is happening externally that may be causing you to feel that way. This allows us to reflect on our emotions and reframe our mindset.

Through the ups and downs of average life functioning, it is essential to prioritize proactive healthcare. There are many different ways to maintain your mental wellness. Getting restful sleep, drinking enough water, moving your body, meditating, journaling and practicing gratitude are all great ways to maintain wellness. Doing these things, as well as other activities or things that you enjoy are essential even when your mental health is in a good place. 

Your mental health journey is something that should always be a priority because it is a lifelong journey. Once this stage of the continuum is in a good spot, then you have a good base to help reach performance optimization.

Performance Optimization
The far right side of the continuum  consists of mental performance strategies and techniques, which inspire peak performance….something all athletes strive for.

“There is a way I can better my best.”
“Top athletes know there is always room to refine or optimize where their peak is,” Gallenberg says. “Athletes who have the desire and the awareness that there is always something that can be done are the ones who continue to grow their mindset.”

Athletes who excel at this space in the continuum have developed a strong base in mental wellness, and can begin to hone in on mental performance tools like focus, imagery, and breathing techniques. These tools combined with strong mental wellness lead to peak performance.

Bottom line, athlete or not, we’re all performers. We are all striving to be our best at something. Whether that is your sport, relationships, jobs, self-improvement, etc. we can all grow.

“Every second of every day you will fall somewhere along the wellness continuum because we all have mental health,” Gallenberg says. “The goal of the continuum is to help individuals gauge where they are at currently.”

It takes many qualities to be an Olympian; passion, determination, motivation, commitment, discipline and consistency to name a few. One important mental skill that can often be overlooked in Olympic athletes’ is mental toughness.

Mental toughness is described as the ability to cope with pressure, adversity and stress (Bull, 1996). After spending a lifetime of training and perfecting form for a single opportunity to compete in an Olympic games, Olympians can understandably feel an intense amount of pressure and stress when it comes time for their final performance. Research shows that athletes achieve the best performance results when they have more mental toughness, as measured by commonly associated attributes (Bull, 1996).

Mental strength and awareness influences many underlying mechanisms that operate in a combination to achieve a successful mindset and performance outcome. Every practice and competition begins with the way an athlete thinks and what their mindset is focused on. The quality of our thoughts is critical and can often attribute to our success or our shortcomings.

Being able to perform under pressure, such as competing at the 2018 Olympics, involves years of concentration, determination, and stability of a positive attitude to obtain mental strength. Just like practicing physical skills, practicing mental skills such as dealing with stress, performance setbacks, bad weather conditions or fatigue can impact performance. The quality of an Olympian that makes them so successful is that regardless of any implications standing in their way, they stand in the face of adversity and remain confident in their skills.  

Mental toughness is a skill any athlete can acquire that can help to positively influence performance. Studies conducted at Staffordshire University showed that athletes with high levels of confidence and control reported feeling less physical discomfort during competition and higher levels of concentration than those who had less confidence (Hamilton, 2015). This evidence supports the importance of mental toughness for performance and how significant it is to believe in yourself and your abilities.



Bull, S. J., Albinson, J. G., & Shambrook, C. J. (1996). The mental game plan: Getting psyched for sport. Eastbourne, UK: Sports Dynamics.

Hamilton, M. (2015) “How Much Does Mental Toughness Affect Race Times?” Runner’s World, 26 May 2015, www.runnersworld.com/newswire/how-much-does-mental-





In the 1996 Olympics gymnast Kerri Strug sprained her ankle on her first vault landing. All she needed to earn a gold medal was a clean vault, which was exactly what she did after spraining her ankle: Strug performed a vault with an injury, landing on one foot. Competing or performing with an injury is common in world of athletics at any level. Strug’s story, as well as many other athletes who have overcome adversity, hold not only a special place in history but also in the eyes of society. The athletes are looked up to as heroes for sacrificing their bodies for the glory of a win. This mentality contributes to the pressure many athletes face to play through an injury at all costs, and negatively contributes to their bodies and mental health. Hiding injuries and/or playing through the pain is not only hurting the injury and prolonging it, but could also lead to more serious problems later on.

From athletes’ perspectives, they are training to control and master their bodies. When injuries occur they may view it as just another part of the body that needs to perform a certain way. An injury may also cause them to view their body as something to fight against. The injury may seem like a form of betrayal because their body is not cooperating with the demands, but in reality the body is telling the host that it needs a break.

Athletes tend to avoid their injuries because they do not want to take time off. For professional athletes, playing through injuries is the norm—their sport is their job, and if they have to take time off, many feel as though they aren’t fulfilling their responsibilities. This, as well as the threat of being replaced, factors in to playing while they are injured. It’s reasonable that they play through injuries; they have everything riding on their athletic abilities. As a result, if the injury is something that won’t end their career, they will risk their health for the reward. However, even though athletes play through the pain very often at this level, they are aware of potential risks. Athletes view those who can accept that they are injured as brave. Former NBA player Alvin Williams stated, “They’re the real courageous ones, because they’re the ones who are going to be able to come back. They’re setting an example that they’re more than an athlete. And, paradoxically, that’s what’s going to make the best athlete, the best organization, the best everything.” Athletes know that playing on an injury is not the best option yet this is not what they are taught or encouraged to do.

In a study of 3,000 athletes, coaches, and parents, 42% of youth athletes said that they have hidden injuries so they could play, which could lead to more serious complications as they grow up. Kate Carr, the president of Safe Kids Worldwide sums it up perfectly, “The awareness we have about injuries and the risk to our children is not matching the behavior that we’re seeing on the field.” Although winning is an important aspect of sports, it should not be something to risk children’s health for. The restriction requiring athletes to be pulled if they have a suspected concussion and the reduction of contact and checking in youth sports are both steps in the right direction for the reduction of injuries as a whole. Now the task is to create an atmosphere where it is the norm to report injuries.

In “Playing through the pain: Psychiatric risks among athletes,” Drs. Samantha O’Connell and Theo C. Manschreck look at the vulnerability in athletes regarding psychiatric health. One of the factors that drives this is how athletes express pain (which for many cases they don’t). Hiding physical injuries could be the gateway into athletes hiding other health issues as well, specifically related to mental health. Athletes may fear that seeking help will make them look weak and threaten their status as an athlete or with their team. This could lead to further problems with their mental health. O’Connell and Manschreck state that playing through pain may be influenced by pressures from coaches, scholarships or parents, but ultimately it has to do with the pressures the athletes puts on themselves to achieve.

When athletes view injury as a weakness both to their identity as an athlete and their performance, this can cause greater health issues regarding injury as well as mental health. Advise your athletes to sit it out if they are in doubt. While sitting out may not be fun for a game or two, it is better than never playing again or having it affect you or your athletes off the field. This view of injury in professional sports may not change soon, but you have the ability to change how you and/or your athletes view injury.