Psychological Safety for Mental Health in Elite Sport: A Theoretically Informed Model

Walton, C.C., Purcell, R., Pilkington, V. et al. 

Sports Med 54, 557–564 (2024).

Elite sports contexts are highly pressurised and frequently enforce a win-at-all-costs approach.

This narrow focus on performance outcomes can potentially contribute in negative ways to the mental health of those within these environments.

In this Current Opinionpaper, we propose a model that outlines how key elements contributing to psychologically safe or unsafe environments may contribute to better or worse mental health outcomes, respectively.

In an environment in which individuals feel safe to show their authentic selves rather than ‘wear a mask’, different experiences of mental health are likely to be normalised, help-seeking behaviour increased, and thus, mental health outcomes enhanced.

We outline how sports teams and organisations can contribute to this through the creation of appropriate policies and procedures, in addition to leaders modelling and reinforcing positive cultural norms.

It is intended that the theoretical model can inform stakeholders in elite sport as well as future research directions.