Recently, Dr. Herzog was interviewed on the status of addressing mental health in youth sports and how it impacts both their performance and overall wellbeing. We thought it was prudent to share his responses with our community! 

What do you think is the biggest impact that mental health issues in youth sports has on the future of the athletes?

I think sports teams that over-emphasize outcomes over process and fun set the stage for athletes to regard sports increasingly from a stance of “winning is the only thing that matters.’  Winning is not the only thing that matters! The process of working at skills, camaraderie, and relationships are the stuff of substance. Coincidentally, winning often happens as a bi-product of this stuff too. These attitudes (adaptive or maladaptive) carry over to everything else the athlete does in life. An outcome orientation contributes to all-or-nothing thinking across domains (e.g., “i’m a winner or a loser” in school, work, relationships, or life).

How much of an impact do you think mental health has on youth? Big impacts or small impacts, and why?

I consider mental health to be a broad term, and I view it on a continuum. Consider the chart below (from ncaa best practices); of course it has big impacts.

The worse your mental health is, the harder it is to function in the world. But one doesn’t need to be in a really bad spot to take steps to take steps toward making things better. Be proactive!

Is there a stigma regarding mental health in youth sports? If so, why do you think it exists?

Thanks in part to elite athletes’ efforts to destigmatize mental health, I think the stigma fades a bit more every year. Sure, there is still stigma, but it’s not what it once was. We can all work to promote steps toward optimizing mental health. Physical health is important, obviously…. so is what is happening from the neck up. 

What solutions have you found that help combat these issues?

Talking about mental health regularly is helpful. Normalizing therapy. Sharing experiences (within the realm of what is comfortable enough to share). Therapists being approachable (with good boundaries) is also huge. 

Where do you see the future of mental health issues in youth sports? 

I see there continuing to be a two-fold approach to sport psychology (mental health and mental performance). Mental performance can be addressed with almost no stigma. This opens the door for more and more conversation (and normalization) of proactive efforts in addressing mental health. Good performance skills in training and on the field are also good coping skills.