Sports: A Mental Game


Rangeview Girls Volleyball meets in a huddle in game vs Thomas Jefferson High School on August 31, 2021.

Jake Bonansinga, Sports Writer

In this past summer’s Tokyo Olympics, one of, if not the greatest gymnasts of all time, withdrew from some events to prioritize her mental health. Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in the world with 32 Olympic and world medals, but even she needed time off to focus on her mental health. In the next morning practice, Biles specified why she withdrew from the team final and the individual all-around competition. She informed the media that she had a case of the “twisties”.

In gymnastics, the twisties means that your mind and your body are not in sync, which can be very dangerous when performing tricks. In other sports, these can be known as “the yips”, which are twitches or unwanted movements that are related to mental interference. These are usually treated by relaxing and thinking positively to help relieve anxiety.

In the case of Biles, not being in sync mentally could have caused her to be seriously injured. Although the impact may not be as grand for student athletes, the effects from sports can still be sizable. Stress from sports can make athletes lose sleep or be distracted, affecting their performance on and off the field.

An athlete’s stress can have multiple sources: pressure to succeed, overworking players, and fear of injury are only a few of the reasons athletes may be stressed out.

“Since sports take up so much of my time, I find myself getting really overwhelmed because usually I’m not sure how to handle the stress of how much time it takes up,” says Rangeview Varsity volleyball Captain Kaitlyn Linza,“I also find myself putting more pressure on myself to ‘do good’ because of the label ‘athlete.’”

As an athlete, Linza has a lot of time committed to practices, games, and other team related activities. This can make it hard to find time to relax or have some down time. If an athlete’s life is anything close to what Linza’s life is like, it would be hard to manage time and sports, especially with a healthy mind. Not only is managing time hard, Linza is expected to perform well on the court, which does not help when it comes to leaving time for yourself. Pressure to succeed from coaches, parents, peers, and even the athlete themselves can be hard on the mental well-being of an athlete.

In order to help with all of the pressure and stresses of sports, an athlete can develop or find a solid support group of peers, parents, or coaches that actually support and spread positivity instead of negativity. Without this support, an athlete could be left on their own to deal with mental strain built up from their sport.

In order to look for more about this support system that every athlete should have, we can turn to the professionals. Lauren Spatenka is the Cherry Creek Hockey and Team Colorado AAA Mental performance Consultant. She has a master’s degree in Sport and Performance Psychology from the University of Denver. Spatenka has worked with various athletes from a variety of sports ranging from hockey to basketball to gymnastics, with levels ranging from beginners to professionals. As someone who has studied the mental side of things, especially in sports and performance, Spatenka knows a lot about the support needed in athletics.

“Building a solid support system is crucial. This can be made up of coaches, teammates, family, friends, teachers, and other influential adults.” Spatenka says, “being able to find a group of people who can support you, who you can talk to and be open with, is critical.”

If an athlete has the support that Spatenka talks about, they are able to compete without the stress or pressure to succeed and without toxic teammates or coaches. Not only does this support help an individual, the locker room attitude helps create a winning but also a positive team.

Although it can be super stressful for some people, sports can also be a way for other athletes to release their stress and get away from their everyday life. Sports can be seen as a reliever or a new life where all that matters is the ball and the goal. For many people, sports are a source of joy.

“Sports have been the thing I use to take care of myself and the thing that I have used as my relief from stress and anxiety.” Rangeview Girls Lacrosse Captain Bela Melendez says, “I may not always get along with my teammates but the sport is what brings me joy and stress relief.”

So, this begs the question, should kids play a sport? Linza says do it if you’re passionate, but prioritize mental health. Melendez says go for it as long as it makes you happy. Spatenka says that it depends on the athlete.

“Learning to use your body and be part of a team with a common goal are wonderful, but if an athlete lacks a positive environment and support system, the costs may outweigh the benefits.” Spatenka says, “It’s okay to experience stress in sport, and it teaches useful lessons, but the healthiest athletes (mentally) will be able to recognize when the stress has become overwhelming, and they can seek support or take a step back.”

Sports can be fun but without the proper support and stress handling, athletes can be left out to dry with their mental health declining. As an athlete, use peers, coaches, and parents as people to lean on when dealing with the stresses and pressure of it all.

If you or someone you know is struggling with your mental health, do not hesitate to reach out to a professional for help.


Emergency medical Services: 911
24 hour crisis center: 1-800-273-TALK
Colorado Crisis Counselors: 1-844-493-TALK
SAMHSA Treatment Referral helpline: 1-877-726-4727