Anxiety and depression in Sport


Anxiety in Australia is one of the most common mental health conditions, and within the sporting context can take many forms. So, what is anxiety and how might it present within sport? It might be that you’re feeling anxious about playing in front of family and friends and feeling significant pressure to perform well. It could also be that you’ve played one half of basketball and are yet to make a basket. So you start to ruminate and say things to yourself like, “I’m playing so poorly”. This type of thinking is known as negative self-talk which can in fact exacerbate the symptoms.

Learning strategies on how to help your anxiety can lead to improved performance, an increase in confidence and greater recovery time. Anxiety support from an individualistic point of view may mean implementing positive self-talk and saying things to yourself such as “I am valuable to my team” or listening to calming music pre-game. Support for anxiety from a more general perspective, can involve sporting communities providing avenues to accessible support for their athletes, as well as access to resources for professional help.

Over the past few years, elite athletes have been speaking out about their experiences with mental health, specifically depression, which is now becoming less stigmatised. Some of the causes of depression for athletes may include, injury and re-injury, overtraining and competitive failure. Other less common causes of depression could be the retirement from sport and the team dynamics.

It is important for club members, teammates and coaches to be aware of some of the signs of depression to provide support when needed. Some signs of depression may include the withdrawal from team events or less socialisation amongst teammates and club members. Depression within sport can also lead to poor performance, increased fatigue and illness, lowered self-esteem, a disruption in sleep habits, and in some cases, an increase in risk taking behaviours such as excessive consumption of alcohol.

Being able to notice the signs and symptoms of depression, can be helpful for sporting communities in providing support to athletes who may be depressed. Ensuring that the athlete knows they are supported within the club and creating a safe environment can help the athlete feel supported. Additionally, encouraging the athlete to seek professional advice can also be helpful in managing depression.

Noticing the signs of depression and anxiety is one of the first steps in being able to provide support to athletes in need. This can be aided through implementing methods such as access to welfare services and creating a club culture which is non-judgmental and supportive between all athletes, coaches and members. Increasing the awareness of depression and anxiety in athletes can assist in decreasing both the stigma and prevalence of these mental health conditions within the sporting community.

At OTLR, we provide a safe space to discuss some of the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and look at ways on how we can support one another. If you are interested in understanding more about our program, please visit or if you would like to book in a program please complete our OTLR Expression of Interest form. The program is fully funded until the end of June this year.

Story courtesy of VWA partner Outside the Locker Room.