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  • Writer's pictureCoach Chris Chougaz

The Intersection of Mental Health and Professional Basketball: A Critical Insight. What is at stake for Coaches and Athletes?



As a professional basketball coach, I would like to share with you some thoughts about the role we are called to fulfill at the highest level of the sport. Our job is not just to teach techniques and strategies, but to be guides, psychologists and mentors for our athletes. Communication is key in coaching. We need to be able to convey our ideas clearly and encourage dialogue with our players. This means listening to their concerns, understanding their needs and helping them build their confidence. As coaches, we have a responsibility to develop our athletes not only physically but also mentally. Creating a positive environment where players can try and fail without fear is vital to their development. During the game, the coach must be a quarterback. The ability to read the game, make quick and correct decisions and adjust our strategy according to the conditions is critical. Understanding the psychology of our athletes is another important factor. We need to be able to handle the stress, pressure and expectations that come with high level sport.

Finally, leadership is perhaps the most important element of coaching. We must be role models for our athletes, guiding them and inspiring them to pursue excellence.

At the end of the day, our role as coaches is not just about winning games. It's about building character, developing leaders and fostering a love for the sport. This is true victory.


In the realm of professional basketball, the physical prowess of athletes often overshadows the mental battles they face. However, recent developments and candid discussions have brought to light the critical importance of mental health among basketball players and coaches.

This post delves into the intricate relationship between mental well-being and the high-stakes environment of professional basketball, drawing insights mainly from two pivotal studies that explore this often-overlooked aspect of the sport.


The Unseen Challenges of Elite Basketball

Professional basketball players are celebrated for their athletic achievements, but behind the scenes, they grapple with a spectrum of mental health issues. The pressure to perform, the fear of injury, and the weight of public scrutiny can take a significant toll on their mental well-being. Coaches, too, are not immune to these pressures, often facing their own set of mental health challenges as they navigate the demands of leading a team to victory.


Groundbreaking Research on Mental Health in Basketball

Two recent studies have shed light on the mental health landscape in professional basketball. The first, published in Sports Medicine - Open, provides a comprehensive review of the mental health of elite basketball players. The second, featured in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology, focuses on the mental health of basketball coaches and the strategies they employ to cope with stress. These studies underscore the prevalence of mental health concerns in the sport and the need for proactive measures to support athletes and coaches alike.


Key Findings and Implications

The research reveals that a significant proportion of basketball players experience mental health issues, with factors such as injury, performance anxiety, and personal life stressors contributing to their struggles. Coaches, on the other hand, report high levels of stress related to team performance, player management, and personal responsibilities. The studies highlight the necessity for tailored mental health resources and interventions that address the unique needs of both players and coaches.


A Call to Action for the Basketball Community

The findings of these studies serve as a call to action for the basketball community to prioritize mental health. Teams and organizations must create supportive environments where players and coaches can openly discuss their mental health concerns without fear of stigma. Access to mental health professionals, educational programs, and wellness initiatives should be integral components of professional basketball culture.


The Way Forward: Mental Health as a Pillar of Athletic Excellence

As the conversation around mental health in professional basketball gains momentum, it is clear that mental well-being is as crucial as physical fitness for the success of players and coaches. By embracing mental health as a fundamental pillar of athletic excellence, the basketball community can foster resilience, enhance performance, and ensure the holistic well-being of all its members.


The mental health of basketball players and coaches is a vital aspect of the sport that demands attention and action. The insights from these studies not only illuminate the challenges faced by professionals in the sport but also offer a blueprint for creating a more supportive and mentally healthy basketball environment. As we continue to celebrate the athletic feats of basketball players, let us also champion their mental health, recognizing it as a key component of their overall success and well-being.


The conversation around mental health in professional basketball is gaining traction. By highlighting the findings from these studies and advocating for a culture shift within the sport, you can engage your audience in a meaningful dialogue about the importance of mental health in basketball. Share this post to spark discussion, raise awareness, and contribute to the well-being of athletes and coaches in the sport we all love.


The Resilience of the Mind: Stories of Recovery and Support in Professional Basketball

The high-octane world of professional basketball is not just a test of physical endurance but also a crucible for mental resilience. The personal journeys of Alex Abrines and Ricky Rubio, alongside the evolving support systems for coaches, offer a profound narrative on the importance of mental health in sports. This blog post aims to highlight their stories of struggle, recovery, and the broader implications for mental health support within sports organizations.


Alex Abrines: From Despair to Triumph


Alex Abrines, the Barcelona swingman, has openly shared his tumultuous journey through mental health challenges. Drafted by the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder at a young age, Abrines faced immense pressure that eventually led him to step away from the game. The isolation and the burden of expectations became overwhelming, but it was through the unwavering support of his wife, friends, family, and mental health professionals that he found his way back to the court. Abrines' experience underscores the critical role of a strong support network and professional help in navigating mental health crises. His story is not just one of personal victory but also a testament to the importance of addressing mental health proactively in the high-stress environment of professional sports.


Ricky Rubio: Confronting Depression and Rediscovering Purpose


Ricky Rubio's battle with depression reveals the darker side of fame and the mental toll it can exact on athletes. The Spanish guard, who rose to stardom early in his career, faced sinister thoughts and internal conflicts that clouded his mind. His decision to prioritize his mental health led to a hiatus from the NBA and a period of introspection and healing. Rubio's candid recount of his struggles and the steps he took towards recovery, including his return to practice with FC Barcelona, offers a powerful narrative on the importance of mental health awareness and the courage to seek help. His journey is a beacon for those in the sport grappling with similar issues, demonstrating that it is possible to emerge stronger on the other side.


Supporting the Supporters: Mental Health for Coaches


In March 2018, Cleveland Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue suddenly stepped away from the team while the Cavs were battling for the top of the Eastern Conference standings in pursuit of another championship. Lue shared that he was having chest pains and was medicated for anxiety. As a head coach bearing the weight of a championship organization, Lue said, “you kind of lose sight of yourself and what it takes for you.” Lue brought attention to mental health issues among coaches in the same way that basketball stars like DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love, had for players.The focus on mental health is not limited to players alone; coaches too are part of this critical conversation.

As the leaders and strategists of their teams, coaches face unique pressures that can impact their mental well-being. Recognizing this, some sports organizations are beginning to implement mental health support systems for coaches, understanding that their health is just as important as that of their players. This shift towards inclusive mental health support reflects a growing acknowledgment within the sports community that success is not solely measured by trophies and titles, but also by the holistic well-being of every individual involved.


The Way Forward: Integrating Mental Health into Sports Culture

The stories of Abrines and Rubio, coupled with the evolving support for coaches, signal a pivotal shift in the sports world. Mental health is no longer a taboo subject but a critical component of an athlete's and coach's overall health. Sports organizations are now tasked with the responsibility of integrating mental health resources, education, and support into their frameworks. By doing so, they not only enhance the performance and longevity of their members but also contribute to a more compassionate and understanding sports culture.

The narratives of Alex Abrines and Ricky Rubio, along with the advancements in coach support, serve as powerful examples of the mental health challenges and triumphs within professional basketball. By sharing these stories and advocating for comprehensive mental health support, we can inspire change and foster an environment where athletes and coaches alike can thrive both on and off the court.


A study conducted by the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and carried out by Orygen and the University of Melbourne in 2020, has revealed a concerning landscape of mental health among elite sports coaches. The research found that over 40% of the surveyed coaches from Australia's Olympic sports reported experiencing mental health symptoms severe enough to warrant professional intervention. However, less than 6% had sought treatment at the time of the survey. The study, which included 78 coaches and 174 support staff, assessed mental health symptoms, psychological distress, sleep disturbance, and alcohol use, and found that coaches experienced mental health issues at levels comparable to elite athletes.

Despite the high prevalence of mental health symptoms, there is a stigma attached to mental health problems within the sports setting, with 30% of respondents believing that admitting to such issues would reflect poorly on them professionally. This stigma contributes to an environment where coaches may feel unsafe to share their mental health struggles. The sudden death of former rugby league coach and player Paul Green has intensified the conversation around the mental health of coaching staff, highlighting the need for greater support and a shift in perception to reduce stigma and encourage those in need to seek help.


Ηow can basketball coaches help in the support of the mental health
Educate Yourself

Coaches should take the initiative to learn about common mental health challenges that athletes face. Understanding the signs and symptoms of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and stress can equip coaches to better support their players. Resources like Mental Health First Aid courses can provide valuable skills

Foster Open Communication

Creating an environment where players feel comfortable discussing their mental health is essential. Coaches can share their own experiences with mental health to normalize the conversation and encourage players to speak up about their struggles

Team-Building Activities

Team-building exercises can help players express their thoughts and emotions, fostering a supportive team environment. These activities can also strengthen social connections, which are vital for mental well-being

Refer Athletes to Support Services

Recognizing when a player needs more support than a coach can provide is important. Coaches should be prepared to refer players to mental health professionals and specialized organizations. They can use resources like the Association for Applied Sport Psychology or directories such as Psychology Today to find appropriate providers.

Promote Self-Care

Coaches should educate players on the importance of rest, recovery, and self-care practices. Encouraging healthy eating, proper hydration, and stress management techniques like mindfulness and relaxation exercises can contribute to players' overall mental health

Maintain Routine and Structure

The disruption of routines during the pandemic has been challenging for many athletes. Coaches can help by establishing structured training plans that are flexible yet provide a sense of normalcy

Support Through Transition

The pandemic has led to significant changes in how sports are played and experienced. Coaches can assist players in adjusting to these changes by setting new goals and focusing on the future, helping to maintain motivation and a positive outlook

Address the Stigma

Coaches should work to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues in sports. By openly discussing mental health and advocating for its importance, coaches can create a culture where seeking help is seen as a sign of strength

Personal Development

Coaches can encourage players to engage in activities that promote mental fitness, such as visualization and mental skills training, to improve focus and resilience

Organizational Support

Coaches can advocate for organizational strategies that prioritize mental health, such as providing access to counseling services, incorporating mental health training into professional development, and setting workload policies that support work-life balance

Monitor and Follow Up

Regular check-ins with players can help coaches monitor their mental health over time. Following up after a player has been referred to support services shows continued care and support

Encourage Professional Help

Hiring professional help for mindset and mental health can be a critical step in a player's development. With the right support, athletes can learn to manage their emotions, build confidence, and stay focused on their goals.

By implementing these strategies, basketball coaches can play a pivotal role in supporting their players' mental health, helping them to navigate the challenges posed by the pandemic and beyond.




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