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Mental illness affects 35% of elite athletes, and some challenges—like performance anxiety and identity loss—are unique to the sport environment. In this video, McMaster university researchers discuss strategies like mental health awareness, individualized development programs, and mental health screenings to improve athlete well-being.

Overestimating the abilities of other people can cause us to doubt ourselves. A study of competitive runners showed that athletes’ predictions of their performance can vary: overconfident athletes tended to have an inflated view of their ability, while underconfident runners overestimated their competitors. Finding a balance between confidence and doubt can help athletes optimize their performance outcomes.

Unexpected competition stressors, such as an injury or unfavourable referee call, are common for athletes. In fact, some athletes report experiencing unexpected stressors not because they are unfamiliar with the stressor, but because they didn’t think it would happen to them. Asking athletes to list the ways that other athletes might experience the competition encourages them to recognize and prepare for the stressors they might face.

Unexpected stressors can negatively affect athletes’ feelings of stress, ability to cope with stress, and performance during competition. But preparing athletes for the possibility that the competition won’t go exactly as planned can help. Acknowledging that the competition might not go the way an athlete had hoped or expected is the first step towards coping effectively with stress.

Self-compassion requires an awareness of personal suffering and a desire to help oneself through an emotionally difficult time. Based on the research, self-compassion has three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

Unexpected stressors happen often and are more challenging to manage than expected stressors. However, they can be managed. One way to manage them is by expecting them. To help athletes “expect the unexpected” during competition, work with them to identify potential stressors before competition. Then establish strategies to manage those stressors.

There are many things that go into a podium-level performance. Interestingly, World, Olympic, and Paralympic champions report that mental skills were more critical to their performance than physical factors. Interpersonal support, performance strategies, and lifestyle are other factors that can help develop high-performing athletes.

Combined physical and mental training disguised as play can support healthy aging. Using an “Exergame,” similar to Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution, adults living with dementia showed significant improvements in reaction time and cognitive skills, such as attention, concentration, memory, and orientation.

Children acting out on the field or in the pool may lack the skills to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviours; rather than the will to respond in prosocial ways. Trauma-sensitive play can help build children’s skills and resilience.

Ultramarathons – 50 miles, 100 miles, or longer – test an athlete’s body and mind. These races offer extreme challenges, from pain in muscles and joints, to gastrointestinal distress, to blisters, chafing, mental fatigue and dehydration. Learn how an athlete must learn to navigate these challenges in this video.