The mental health of athletes has been a major focal point since professional tennis star Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open earlier this month, citing stress and anxiety.

As athletes and teams at all levels make their championship runs or prepare for off season workouts, behavioral health experts say it’s vital for them to focus on their mental well-being and take steps to address concerns.

Intermountain Healthcare sport psychologist Tony Kemmochi, Psy.D., works with a wide range of people in high-performance professions, including athletes. Dr. Kemmochi says the pressures and stresses on athletes in the spotlight have their own set of challenges that many people may normally never face.

“We often expect great performance from athletes, but we don’t always appreciate that it comes with a great cost to their physical and mental wellbeing,” said Dr. Kemmochi. “Imagine if everything you did at work was constantly watched and co-workers pointed out every small mistake. It would cause serious levels of stress and anxiety that would take a toll.”

Today these problems can be made even worse with the onslaught of coverage on social media from fans and commentators.

Dr. Kemmochi said this is why it’s vital for athletes to work with a sport psychologist who knows the unique pressure of high-performance industries. However, athletes can often be reluctant to seek help because they see it as a sign of weakness, but Dr. Kemmochi says overcoming those fears is a sign of strength.

His suggestion for athletes, competing at all levels, is to find ways to relax so the stresses of competition don’t overwhelm them. Dr. Kemmochi also encourages competitors to focus on important things in their lives outside of sports.

“If you built a house with only one beam, even if it’s strong, it will eventually collapse in a storm or earthquake,” said Dr. Kemmochi. “Athletes can be the same way when their only focus is on their sport. If they don’t concentrate on other joys like family and their friends, it can cause a breakdown when something goes wrong in competition.”

According to Dr. Kemmochi, mindfulness exercises can be another important way for athletes of all ages to keep relaxed and focused on their tasks at hand.

For more information on Intermountain TOSH and available sport psychology programs, visit their website.

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