We talk about athletes as if they were a different human breed. We see them as super-machines, capable of training for long periods and enduring incredible efforts. But, we tend to forget that they are just like the rest of us. They have their own life and internal goals – it’s not just “the athlete”.

This lack of consideration for the “self” in athletes leads to an altered sense of their true identity. And while this idea stems from the audience, the truth is that it affects their vision.

Two sides of the same coin.

As an athlete, you always have to worry about what others perceive of you. Especially if you are famous due to being constantly under the scrutiny of the public eye. In many cases, viewer popularity has a big play on how much you can progress in the sport. You often see this in big football clubs – you make one mistake, which results in hundreds of fans and sponsors turning their back on you.

Of course, this persistent need to keep your public image in check is draining. Thus, the saying two sides of the same coin result from athletes having to find a balance between their real selves and what the audience desires. This is additional to all the strain from training and competing.

• Separating yourself from others’ opinions

A big step in achieving this balance relies on distancing yourself from baseless critiques. Of course, this sounds easier said than done, but there are a few ways to achieve this:

• Accepting mistakes

When playing, it’s easy to get carried away with avoiding mistakes, rather than focusing on doing your best. But making mistakes means you’re trying! So start concentrating more on giving your all and not on what others might think of your performance.

• Setting goals

Analysing your goals is also very important. When we set a goal, we also have to understand our capabilities, and if the objective is realistic. Thus, it is important to challenge ourselves, but that doesn’t mean aiming for unreachable goals. Especially if we put ourselves down when not reaching them.
• Self-determination: As an athlete, the more you are confident of your capabilities, the better you will perform. This is a crucial part of maintaining your drive and steering away from frustration and burnout. Believe in yourself and all the hard work you put into the sport.

• Knowing when to step back

A very important aspect of creating a safe mental space for athletes is knowing when to pause. It’s tempting to get hyper-focused on your goals and constantly seek the adrenaline high. Although this may sound like a good sports practice, it is not. Rest is essential, in particular after an intense competition period.

On the one hand, rest helps the body replenish energy storage and muscle recovery. On the other hand, it contributes to mental clarity, which is crucial for maintaining concentration. It also helps to cope with stress – if your body is constantly under pressure, it won’t be able to perform as you wish. So make sure to give importance to taking care of yourself.

Overall it’s important to understand that a divided self is unhealthy. Of course, being an athlete is a great part of your life, but it isn’t all. By prioritising learning such borders and how to conjugate them in your day-to-day, you decide when to be in competition or personal mode, while remaining true to yourself

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Ana Sofia Dantas is in the last year of her Bachelor’s in Psychology at the University of
Porto. She is currently an intern at Willingness within the Health Clinic, with a special
interest in neuroscience and social psychology.