The Power of a Positive Mindset: How Irrational Beliefs Impact Athletes’ Mental Health

Athletes are constantly pushed to their physical and mental limits, facing numerous challenges and adversities in their careers. From injuries and de-selection to performance pressure, the demands of competitive sports can take a toll on an athlete’s mental health. However, a recent study conducted by sports psychology experts from Staffordshire University and Manchester Metropolitan University has shed light on a key factor that contributes to poor mental health in athletes – irrational beliefs.

Understanding Irrational Beliefs

Irrational beliefs are extreme, rigid, and illogical ideas that people hold. For example, a person might believe that they “must” get what they want, or that just because they have failed, they are a “complete failure.” In the context of sports, self-depreciation beliefs such as “if I lose, I’m a failure” or “If I face setbacks, it shows how stupid I am” are warning signs that can impact an athlete’s self-confidence, leading to greater competitive anxiety and depressive symptoms. This is the first study that has examined irrational beliefs, self-confidence, and the psychological well-being of athletes altogether.

The Link between Irrational Beliefs and Mental Health

The Power of a Positive Mindset: How Irrational Beliefs Impact Athletes' Mental Health

Self-depreciation beliefs were found to be the main predictor of low self-confidence in athletes. According to Dr. Martin Turner from Manchester Metropolitan University, when an athlete puts themselves down and uses language like “If I lose, it means I am a failure,” it can lead to losses of confidence and a knock-on effect on performance and well-being. The good news is that irrational beliefs can be challenged and weakened. By encouraging rational and logical beliefs about performance, athletes can stay healthy amidst the high demands of competitive sports.

How to Promote a Healthy Mindset in Athletes

The authors propose Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) as an effective tool for protecting self-confidence. REBT helps athletes to challenge self-depreciation beliefs and develop beliefs that are more helpful and healthy. For example, instead of believing “I am a failure if I fail,” an athlete might counter this thought with “failing is not ideal, but it does not mean that I am a failure.”

The Power of a Positive Mindset: How Irrational Beliefs Impact Athletes' Mental Health

A coach, teammate, or sports psychologist can listen out for irrational belief phrases and help athletes to counter them. Promoting helpful “self-talk” or imagery can also help shift an athlete’s mindset from being rigid and illogical to be more rational, flexible, and healthy.


The study highlights the important role that irrational beliefs play in athletes’ mental health and well-being. By encouraging rational and logical beliefs about performance, and using tools like REBT to challenge self-depreciation beliefs, we can help athletes maintain a positive and healthy mindset amidst the challenges and adversities of competitive sports.

Also read, how Healthy Lifestyle Helps You Live Longer Without Dementia.

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