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Youth elite athlete mental health is complex. Being young is a time of transition and can leave young people vulnerable to mental illness. Meanwhile, elite athletics often involves high pressure situations and intense training. These two experiences combined leaves youth elite athletes especially vulnerable. Researchers are calling for more attention to early mental health intervention.

The psychosocial and not just the physical ramifications of a sport-related concussion need to be considered as athletes return to play. Researchers have identified 6 psychosocial factors involved in return to sport: fear of re-injury, status of confidence, impact on identity, sense of support, sense of pressure and one’s experience of concussion.

Since the legalization of cannabis in Canada in 2018, it has become imperative for sport organizations to communicate research and policy regarding cannabis usage to athletes. This article summarizes what athletes and organizations need to know about the current state of cannabis in sport.

Concussion recovery can be a challenging time for athletes. Research shows that many athletes report mental health challenges, such as feelings of anxiety or depression during their recovery. Helping athletes seek mental health care after their concussion may help reduce the burden of concussions and improve their recovery outcomes.

Ensuring that athletes feel comfortable voicing their opinion (and have it considered and respected) is an important aspect of psychological safety in sport. A recent study of 379 athletes showed that those who felt they could be open with their coaches and teammates were more likely to feel psychologically safe, and to have a positive coach-athlete relationship.

Referring an athlete to a medical professional is a critical first step in concussion recovery. Research shows that athletes who get medical care in the first few days following a concussion recover sooner than those who wait more than ten days to seek care. If you think an athlete has sustained a concussion, encourage them to seek medical care immediately.

Researchers have found that athletes who were identified as “flourishing” or maintaining wellbeing in university sport did so through managing commitments, communicating with coaches, looking for positives, reflection, and taking a break from sport. These results are strategies that may help promote and protect mental health among student-athletes.

When helping an athlete recover from injury, it is common for those in supporting roles (such as, coaches, practitioners or parents and guardians) to separate the needs of the injured athlete from the larger team. This makes sense, considering the athlete is dealing with the physical, emotional and psychological effects of rehabilitation (Clement et coll., 2015). However, it is important for those in supporting roles not to overlook the impact an injured athlete’s absence from training and competition can have on both the individual, and the functioning and performance of their team.

In this blog, we will explain how viewing an athlete’s injury recovery from a group dynamics perspective can help the injured individual feel supported and connected to their team during rehabilitation, while also helping the broader team maintain performance.

Understanding team dynamics

Diagram showing the team dynamics model
Figure 1. Summary framework for team dynamics in sport

Understanding how different factors in a team environment interact and contribute to team functioning and individual experiences can help when supporting injured team members and buffering detrimental effects on team performance (Adams et coll. 2022).

Elements that contribute to team dynamics include (Eys et coll., 2022):

How team inputs are impacted by an injury

Each team member has unique biological (for example, height), social (for example, spiritual beliefs), and psychological (for example, personality) attributes that shape the interactions they have with other team members (McGrath, 1984). Similarly, features of the team environment, such as how many athletes are on the field of play at a time or a team’s access to certain resources (like facilities or equipment) also influence the interactions among team members (McGrath, 1984).

When an athlete gets injured, the makeup or structure of the group is forced to change because they are unable to participate in the same ways as when they were healthy. As a result, other team members are presented with new opportunities, altering how the team functions (Surya et coll., 2015; Van Woezik et coll., 2020).

How team throughputs are impacted by an injury

Similar to groups in other domains (such as businesses or the military), sports teams have organizational structure. When an injured athlete is unable to train or compete, it not only affects the team’s physical structure (such as who plays what position), but also the psychological structure (for example, roles within the team) (Surya et coll., 2015).

Athletes adopt or are assigned roles based on their abilities, status within the group, or a pattern that emerges in the way they interact with other members of the team (Cope et coll., 2011). Some roles are considered formal (such as captain) and come with well-defined expectations that should be made clear by the coach. Other roles are considered informal (for example, comedian), and come with their own set of expectations that may vary depending on who is filling the role (Cope et coll., 2011). Regardless, when a team member suffers an injury, roles within the team shift.

Coaches can promote a smooth transition by ensuring team members understand what their new roles require of them and revising team strategy to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the group (Surya et coll., 2015; Van Woezik et coll., 2020). It is also important for coaches, practitioners and guardians of injured players to help them maintain active involvement with the team and feel supported by temporarily providing them a new role (Van Woezik et coll., 2020). Injured players can take on roles such as stats keeper or mentor to younger players.

How team emergent states are impacted by an injury

When all members of the team understand their new roles and feel like they are contributing members, they are more likely to have a positive experience within the team. These perceptions of how we feel as a team member and individual in a team setting are what are referred to as “emergent states.” Cohesion is a key emergent state to consider when an athlete is rehabbing an injury. Cohesion refers to how united an athlete feels their team is regarding task and social objectives (Carron et coll., 1988).

Injured athletes are at risk of disengaging with the team when they feel as though they have a diminished role. When athletes feel they are part of a cohesive group, they demonstrate greater coping ability (Wolf et coll., 2015), are more likely to attend games and practices (Carron et coll., 1988) and accept a diminished role (Prapavessis & Carron, 1997), easing the transitions occurring within the team.

Regularly using cohesion-boosting strategies, such as having a shared team mission and keeping the injured athlete involved with the team can buffer the isolating effects of injury, support their reintegration when they are healthy, and help other athletes adjust to their new responsibilities.

In addition, open and effective communication between coach, athlete, sports medicine practitioners, parents and guardians about the rehabilitation process is key to supporting the injured individual. Open and effective communication can help a recovering athlete feel like they have control over their rehabilitation process, foster positive thinking and goal setting, and protect them from rushing recovery (Podlog & Doinigi, 2010).

Evidence-informed tips to support athletes during and after an injury:


Considering the framework for team dynamics in sport can help the injured athlete have a smooth transition back to play and maintain team performance in their absence (Eys et coll., 2022). Using team dynamics as a guide, coaches, athletes, practitioners and guardians can keep everyone informed and involved while the injured athlete works their way back to competition.

In the middle of an academic year and a busy sport season, student-athletes may find it difficult to cope with the demands on their time and pressure to perform. One way that student-athletes can work to maintain their mental health is to look for positives. In other words, identify the good that things that can be taken from a situation, whether the student-athlete perceived the situation as positive or not.

You don’t necessarily need a sport-specific mental health strategy or specialized staff to make an impact in the mental health space. Consistently and frequently communicating to athletes, coaches and support staff what mental health supports are available at no cost or subsidized cost, such as Game Plan or Lifeworks, is an easy and cheap place for all national sport organizations to start.