Self-Depreciation Beliefs: Key Predictor of Poor Mental Health in Athletes
Investigating athletes’ beliefs, researchers from Staffordshire University and Manchester Metropolitan University found that irrational beliefs, specifically self-depreciation beliefs, are a core reason for poor mental health in athletes. This is the first known study to examine irrational beliefs, self-confidence, and the psychological wellbeing of athletes all together.
Symptoms of Poor Mental Health in Athletes
More than 400 athletes across various sports, ages, and levels of experience were questioned in the study. The findings reveal that athletes’ belief systems are related to poorer self-confidence and, in turn, greater competitive anxiety and depressive symptoms. Self-depreciation beliefs, such as “if I lose, I’m a failure” or “if I face setbacks, it shows how stupid I am,” are warning signs, according to the authors.
The Impact of Irrational Beliefs on Athletes
Paul Mansell, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Staffordshire University, said: “Despite the psychological benefits of physical activity, studies frequently report poor mental health in athletes, which may be exacerbated by adversities such as injury, de-selection, and performance pressure.”
Dr Martin Turner from Manchester Metropolitan University explained: “Self-depreciation beliefs were found to be the main predictor of low self-confidence. When an athlete puts themselves down and uses language like ‘if I lose, it means I am a failure,’ it is most damaging and most likely to lead to losses of confidence, which then has a knock-on effect on performance and wellbeing.”
Solution: Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy
The authors propose Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) as an effective tool for protecting self-confidence. REBT helps athletes to challenge self-depreciation beliefs and develop beliefs that are more helpful and healthy. For example, rather than believing “I am a failure if I fail,” this might be countered with “failing is not ideal, but it does not mean that I am a failure.”
Paul added: “Irrational beliefs can be challenged and weakened. A coach, teammate, or sports psychologist can listen out for irrational belief phrases and help athletes to counter them. Promoting helpful ‘self-talk’ or imagery can really help shift somebody’s mindset from being rigid and illogical to being more rational, flexible, and healthy.”
This study sheds light on the critical role that self-depreciation beliefs play in predicting poor mental health in athletes. By promoting rational and logical beliefs about performance, we can help athletes maintain good mental health amidst the high demands of competitive sport.
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