The Mental Game Plan: Cultivating Resilience In Athletes

Uncategorized Mar 12, 2024

In recent years, we’ve seen world class athletes like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Dak Prescott open up about their mental health, sharing the realities of anxiety, depression and burnout that many athletes face. These messages are powerful reminders that being an athlete extends far beyond physical abilities and that the mental side of the game deserves just as much attention.  

For athletes at any level, mental skills and training are a key piece of the puzzle – helping them build a sense of confidence and resilience that they can lean on in competition, and more importantly, in all other areas of their lives as well.

A Personal Journey 

As something Simply Bee CEO Audrey Grunst, LCSW has personal experience with, athlete mental health has been a focus of our work here since the beginning. Her story is one that, unfortunately, many athletes can resonate with.  

Growing up as a competitive volleyball player in a small town, Audrey dedicated a big amount of her time to her sport – training, traveling and working towards her dream to play Division 1. This dream was realized when she accepted an offer to play at Loyola University in Chicago. After a successful freshman season, every athlete’s nightmare came true for her: a career ending injury.  As someone who had built an identity around her sport, this injury felt devastating, taking a toll on her mental health and bringing up the big question of “What now?” 

Through the process of redefining her identity, Audrey began her journey in the mental health space - bringing with her the understanding of just how important it is for athletes to have skills and strategies that support their mental wellness. Here’s the lesson learned that she now shares with the world: don’t wait until you are in the middle of the challenge to prioritize your mental health; be proactive in building your resilience, knowing it’s what keeps you connected to hope, confidence & joy. 

What’s Got You Stuck? 

While your own story may not exactly match Audrey’s, or maybe you’re not an athlete at all, odds are that you’ve experienced your fair share of challenges. Let's break down some other common ones that may resonate with you: 

  • The fear of failure or making mistakes is impacting your confidence, self-esteem and decision-making  
  • You feel immense pressure to meet high expectations from yourself or others [e.g. coaches, teammates, parents] leading to high stress levels 
  • Balancing your commitments with other responsibilities is creating overwhelming demands, and you’re feeling mentally exhausted and burnt out 
  • Coping with setbacks [or injuries] has led to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and fear of losing your competitive edge  

If you’ve found yourself stuck in any of these ruts (or maybe a few of them) - it’s a good sign that it’s time to start putting your mental health first! Why? A strong foundation of mental wellness lends itself to a healthy sense of self, resilience, balanced self-esteem and the ability to ride the waves of pressure in all areas of life.  

Strategies For Developing A Resilient Mindset 

Spending intentional time developing mindset skills really is a game changer – both on and off the field. Let’s talk about a few strategies that can keep you feeling focused, confident and fulfilled even in the face of setbacks.  


Athletes are often taught to push themselves to the limit and never back down from a challenge. But sometimes, saying no and setting boundaries is the best thing you can do for your mental health – especially when it comes to preventing burnout. Here are some tips for setting healthy boundaries as an athlete: 

  • Give yourself permission to prioritize your own needs, reminding yourself that this is essential for long term success 
  • Define your limits: What are signs to look for that may signal you need to rest or take a break? How will you rest? Who can you ask for support? 
  • Establish clear communication with coaches and teammates about your needs and limitations, encouraging others to do the same. Communicate to others when you feel your boundaries are being crossed 
  • It’s okay to start small! Boundaries are difficult and take time to start to feel more comfortable. Find some examples and space to practice here. 

This is a simple yet effective skill to use during practice or a game – or in any environment really! CPRR stands for Check In, Pause, Reset, Refocus. Use this skill when you start to feel the effects of pressure, self-doubt or uncertainty start to creep in. 

  • Check In with your thoughts and feelings (physical and emotional). Label them in your mind 
  • Pause with a few deep breaths  
  • Reset your mind by taking a moment and finding an external cue in your environment. By getting your eyes away from the stress, you can practice getting our mind away from It as well 
  • Refocus your intention on the present moment – away from past mistakes and future uncertainty 

This quick practice not only helps ground you in the present moment, but also increases your awareness of what’s really going on in your mind and body. The more awareness you have, the more in control you’ll feel of the situation! 

Wide Support Network 

It might sound cliche, but having people in your corner really does make all the difference. The key here is that your network shouldn’t only be comprised of people in the sports world. Having a mixture of coaches, teammates, mentors, family and friends that care about your well-being is what can truly enable you to navigate challenges, build resilience, be open about your experiences and maintain a healthy perspective and balance. 

Building Your Athlete Toolbox 

While physical abilities can take athletes far, it's the strength of their mental resilience that truly propels them forward, both within their sport and beyond. As the silence around mental health in sports continues to be broken, it’s time to make space for your own. Be proactive about setting healthy boundaries, checking in with yourself and building a strong support system – because skills like these are what you can lean on during the wins and losses of life.  


Looking to put these skills & strategies into practice? Check out this Mindful Athlete Guide

If you’re looking for more 1:1 support in this area, our team is here for you. Our clinicians see athletes for issues such as pressure, fear of failure, setting expectations, lack of confidence, injury/loss of season, overcoming mental blocks, finding healthy balance and perfectionism. Visit our webpage to schedule an intake call.  


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