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Mental Health Issues Faced By Young And Senior Players: A Sports Psychologist's Point Of View

Lot of issues are related to bullying, teasing, disturbance by the peers and feeling that the coach is not giving required attention and training to them. In this situation they are to conflicts with peers or coach

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Professional sportsmen are quite different from people who are not in active sports. So the kind of mental health issues they face are also bit different from people who are not inclined to sports. Their issues vary with their age and their level of expertise. Young players experience more interpersonal, relationship, growth/sex, adjustment, peer pressure, focus related issues. Whereas, senior players experience issues like, performance related stress and anxiety, overcoming the plateau phase, keeping pace with young players (practice and performance wise), and midlife crises caused by early retirement age in some sports.

"    Performance related Stress, Anxiety, and Fear:
Senior players' experience it more, as they have achieved a certain level of expertise and social status and now the idea of losing from someone who is young or not being able to qualify or perform in the moderate level competitions, creates a lot of pressure upon them. Young players experience it, relatively less. High and low level of performance anxiety/ stress/ arousal is debilitative to performance, whereas a moderate level, enhances performance.

"    Game/ Practice related: Aggression, focus, stamina, doubts

Both, young and old players experience game/ practice related issues. Young players experience issues like aggression, lack of focus, lack of guidance. Whereas, senior players experience issues more like, self-doubt, receding stamina, loss of interest, etc. The role of sports psychologist, in this case, becomes more of a motivator and a guide. Mental training, mind focusing, and mental conditioning techniques can play a crucial role in helping athletes in such situations.

"    Relationships (romantic/sexual) and Family related:
Young players experience more relationship issues as compared to old ones. They are basically adolescents, their bodies and minds are in a state of transition from childhood to adulthood. A lot of hormonal changes are going on in their bodies which are not only effecting their bodies and minds, but also influencing their social interactions, societal expectations, and self-image. They experience a lot of attraction towards their opposite sex, but they are unable to understand and control them. Family related issues are quite common in both young and old players. Young players experience issues like, physical/ mental abuse, quarrel in family, alcoholic father, etc. Whereas, senior players experience issues like, balancing spouse, children, and parental family, along with their sport.  

"    Injury related: recovery, efficiency
Injury is one time when the sportsman needs support and guidance the most. The role of sports psychologist becomes very important here as the player become extremely vulnerable to issues like mood swings, erratic behaviour, sleeplessness or laziness, burst of anger or anxiety, negative peer interaction, etc.

"    Substance Abuse (Doping) related:
This again is one of the most important issue in sports. Lot of young players face dilemma about whether to use banned substance or not. On one side there is peer pressure, fear of failure, competiveness, etc. On the other side there is fear of defamation, getting banned by the agencies (WADA/NADA).

"    Financial/ Job related issues: family income, bread earners in family
In India, largely the sports population comes from a weaker sections of society. So for them sports' is also a method of finding a good government job and helping their family survive financially. But when this is not happening they undergo a lot of pressure, stress and sometimes depression.

"    Peer/ Coach related: bullying, teasing, disturbing, conflicts
Lot of issues are related to bullying, teasing, disturbance by the peers and feeling that the coach is not giving required attention and training to them. In this situation they are to conflicts with peers or coach.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Gunjan Maithil

The author is Lead-Psychologist, Mpower's Cell, BITS Goa; Former Sports Psychologist, National Teams, Sports Authority of India

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