Mental Health in Team Sports Compared to Individual Sports
When most people initially begin playing sports at a young age, it is for fun and to make friends, but as people get older, they start to settle into their sport. They start to find what sports they are good at and which ones they aren’t. They may find that an individual sport like wrestling or track is more their style than a team sport like volleyball or football. As athletes get older, they may find that it is easier to compete by themselves than alongside others, but how does this affect an athlete’s mental health and how does it vary from team sports to an individual sport athlete.
Sports have always been looked at as a fun activity for people to do, but what if it is actually causing more stress for people? According to Pluhar (2019) ‘team’ sport athletes had positive experiences with coaching, skill development, and peer support which contribute to feelings of social acceptance and decreased body dissatisfaction and ultimately fewer depressive symptoms among adolescents (Pluhar, 2019). Research points to athletes who participate in a team sport feel less of the depression or anxiety that individual sport athletes experience. This may have to do with the fact that with a team sport you have other people to rely on and help pick you up after a mistake, while people in an individual sport only have themselves. Individual sport athletes may have to learn to get through hard times in their sport by themselves. Yet, this increased sense of accountability can lead to intense feelings of shame or guilt after losing. Team sports are sometimes stressful as a result of competition, team dynamics or coaching issues, but individual sports may cause greater internal attribution such as shame after failure, which is linked to depressive symptoms (Pluhar, 2019).
When an individual sport athlete loses, they feel they have failed themselves because they are the only one to blame for the loss. The sense of failure that they put on themselves can lead to feeling depressed and cause them to feel some anxiety when they go to compete the next time. This pressure that individual sport athletes experience is different than that experienced by an athlete on a team because their sport is done as a collective and the pressure is distributed evenly on everyone on the team, because each person has a role to play. Individual athletes do not experience this diffusion of responsibly and guilt.
This does not mean the individual sport athletes cannot take pride in their achievements, however. When they succeed, setting a record or reaching a goal for example, they share it with as many people as they can. When athletes practice alone, they can improve their ability to concentrate and improve mental strength. While individual sports often provide less social opportunity, they encourage responsibility and self-reliance (Pluhar, 2019). Self-reliance and concentration are two areas that individual sport athletes have conquered better than team sport athletes. With being alone, they have to be able to also believe in their own ability and skills. Self-confidence and mental toughness are mental aspect that all athletes need, but individual athletes need more.
Pluhar, E., McCracken, C., Griffith, K. L., Christino, M. A., Sugimoto, D., & Meehan, W. P. (2019, August 1). Team sport athletes may be less likely to suffer anxiety or depression than individual sport athletes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6683619/.
Autumn Presley is a senior Exercise Science major at Trine University and wrote this blog post as an assignment for SM 313 Principles of Sport and Recreation Management.