Athlete Mental Health and Wellbeing During the Transition into Elite Sport: Strategies to Prepare the System

Pilkington, V., Rice, S., Olive, L., Walton, C. & Purcell, R.

. Sports Med. – Open 10, 24 (2024).

The transition into elite-level sport can expose young athletes to risk factors for mental ill-health, including increased performance expectations, stressors associated with becoming increasingly public figures, and changes in lifestyle demands, such as diet, training loads and sleep.

Successful integration into elite-level sport requires athletes to quickly adapt to these newfound challenges and the norms and culture of the new sport setting, while developing relationships with teammates, coaches, and support staff.

Despite these demands, the mental health experiences of athletes transitioning into elite-level sport have been largely neglected in sport psychology literature.

This is reflected in the dearth of programs for supporting mental health during this career phase, particularly relative to retirement transition programs.

In this article, we offer a preliminary framework for supporting athletes’ mental health during the transition into elite-level sport.

This framework is based on holistic, developmental, and ecological perspectives. Our framework outlines a range of recommendations for promoting mental health and preventing mental ill-health, including individual-level, relational, sport-level, and sociocultural-level strategies.

Key recommendations include preparing athletes for the challenges they are likely to face throughout their athletic careers, highlighting athletes’ competence earlier in their careers, developing supportive relationships in the sport setting, and fostering psychologically safe sporting cultures.

Supporting mental health from earlier in the athletic career is likely to promote athletes’ overall wellbeing, support enjoyment and retention in sport, and encourage help-seeking.