Mental Health In Sports: Lessons From Naomi Osaka

Updated February 24, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people are aware of mental health and its importance; however, up until recently, there have not been many discussions about mental health in sports—especially at the Olympic and professional level.

Some people may view mental health and sports as separate from one another; in actuality,  mental health and sports are very much linked. Furthermore, the mental health of athletes plays a significant role in their performance and ongoing longevity in the profession.

Your Mental Health Deserves The Same Investment As Your Body

In order for people to be able to enjoy sports—both watching and playing—the mental health of players is of significant importance.

Tennis star Naomi Osaka brought mental health in sports into sharp relief during the French Open in 2021. She requested not to attend post-match press conferences, citing the need to spend time attending to her mental health. She was fined and eventually withdrew, stating that her mental health was important and she needed to take care of it.

Sports And Mental Health

Despite the importance of mental health, there remains an unfortunate stigma associated with mental health in sports. There is a perceived “vulnerability” in discussing mental health, contrasting with the outlook of “toughness” that is typically associated with sports.

In many cases, athletes are told to move past negative things and forget difficult memories and experiences. Once players get to a certain level in the occupation, there’s often an expectation for them to project “strength” and focus on team leadership. Sports culture largely views this as the pinnacle of productivity; however, this can be detrimental to players in both the short and long term.

Despite the existing mental health stigma in sports, there is always room for change and progress. That first begins with communicating to players that mental health challenges do not make them weak or less deserving to be an athlete. It’s also important for sports culture not to sweep mental health under the rug in general or adhere too closely to the “get over it and toughen up” approach.

There is no denying that rising above certain challenges is necessary for sports and other areas of life; however, mental health and mental health challenges are not things that can simply be “gotten over.” Mental health struggles must be taken as seriously in the sports community as physical injuries. Despite the stigma, mental health can have just as much impact on an athlete’s ability to play sports as any physical injury.

Understanding this is the very first step to chipping away at the unfortunate stigma of mental health in sports.

How Can Therapy Help Mental Health In Sports?

Understanding the importance of mental health in sports, along with the subsequent stigma, matters; however, it’s equally as relevant to understand how mental health can be of value and provide a solution to this particular issue.

The reality is that therapy and mental health go hand in hand, even when it comes to sports. Mental health ailments should be treated with care and urgency.

A Helpful, Qualified Shoulder To Lean On

There are a variety of ways that therapy can help mental health in sports. However, the ability for players to have a helpful and qualified shoulder to lean on certainly makes the top of the list.

Speaking with therapists can help players know they are not alone and have someone to confide in. Players who talk with therapists have a safe space to hash out their feelings and thoughts; this comes with the added benefits of getting personalized feedback that is unique to their situation and no one else’s. 

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Across all occupations, there are many people who deal with stress and pressure; however, for athletes, stress and pressure can reach heightened levels.

As previously noted, many athletes are facing expectations to perform at a certain level and meet certain quotas. In many cases, these expectations increase as players move through the ranks and rise in their field. Despite certain benefits linked to this progression, consistent expectations can engender stress; the risk of stress especially goes up when players are dealing with other challenges outside of their profession.

This is yet another reason why therapy can help with mental health in sports. A therapist can help each player develop coping mechanisms that are tailored to them as individuals. No two players are the same. Therefore, what works for one athlete may turn out to be less helpful for the next.

BetterHelp’s Commitment To Mental Health In Sports

The importance of mental health in sports cannot be overestimated. As such, BetterHelp remains deeply committed to the mental health of athletes and other sports players.

In keeping with this sentiment, BetterHelp will be working with the OUT Foundation’s OUT Athlete program by donating three months of free therapy to athletes. Furthermore, BetterHelp stands with The OUT Foundation and OUT Athlete Program by supporting queer and non-queer athletes both now and in the future.

Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists, from athletes facing different challenges.

“Wendy is great. I'm unique and not everything in my life is cut and dry or "normal," but she has taken the time to understand my crazy workloads and athletic pursuits and has worked a therapeutic plan around things most people would have trouble grasping. She really is great, and I highly recommend her services!”

Learn More About Wendy Gaunt

Mental Health Solutions Outside Of Therapy

There is no denying that therapy can be a great solution for athletes and others who are struggling with mental health issues.

The following mental health solutions can be beneficial to both athletes and other people in need of mental health support.

Keep A Journal

Keeping a journal is an excellent mental health solution that does not involve therapy. By writing in a journal, athletes and others have a constructive and positive means of letting out their emotions. Journaling is a great release and allows for personal reflection.

Many people use journals to release their thoughts, feelings, and struggles; other people use journals to write letters to individuals who will never receive them. This, too, can be incredibly helpful to people in need of mental health support. Journals are also easy to carry from place to place, a benefit that can especially be of value to athletes.

Your Mental Health Deserves The Same Investment As Your Body

Spend Time With Loved Ones

As human beings, we are innately wired to seek personal connections with other people. It’s been proven time and time again that having a support system and loved ones to confide in makes all the difference in the world.

Isolation and loneliness are some of the worst things for any individual to struggle with; this is especially true when mental health issues are present. For this reason, spending time with loved ones is a great mental health solution that does not involve therapy.


Now, more than ever, it is time to be mindful of the importance of mental health in sports. The stigma must be erased so that each and every athlete feels comfortable with getting any mental health care they may need.

Online therapy is as effective as in-person therapy in dealing with many types of mental health issues, including those experienced by athletes. It can be difficult to connect with a therapist when one travels a great deal, and online therapy can eliminate that difficulty completely.

Athletes and anyone else in need of mental health support, services, or feedback can reach out to BetterHelp here. We offer affordable, convenient online therapy that you can get no matter where you are.

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