Exercise can have positive and negative effects on mental health. It is particularly important to mention these two sides in advance, as the media and social image of professional football are rather negative in relation to mental health. They are obviously more productive from the media point of view than writing about professional footballers who benefit from football in their personality and psychosocial development. However – and nobody should close their eyes here – the more performance-oriented the sporting activity is, the more psychologically damaging components are added to these protective mechanisms of sport.
The positive potential of sporting activity for the development of mental health is known from research in the field of recreational and health sport and must in principle also be accepted in competitive sport. It is also a scientifically well-established fact that sports activity contains protective factors against the development of mental disorders. In particular, physical activity can strengthen the resistance to external stressors, a positive self-image can arise and health-related attitudes and beliefs can develop positively. Unfortunately, there are hardly any studies that address these positive effects, especially in the field of (professional) football or competitive sports. Isolated studies show improved health-related behaviors (for example, quality of sleep, coping with stress) and predominantly positive self-perceptions by football players (among the top performers among the youngsters). There is, however, a major research deficit in research into the positive effects of competitive sport on mental health.
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Endangering mental health in football
Stress reactions and mental disorders in football and competitive sport:
The well-being (for example the mood or physical feeling) of the competitive athlete is the decisive indicator for whether or not stress can be coped with. If professional footballers or other athletes feel physically or mentally bad for long periods of time, this usually means that they either already have a physical or mental illness or at least that they are not adequately coping with existing physical, mental or social stresses. There is no clear association between the type of stress and the form of discomfort. This means that psychological stress can lead to physical disorders just as physical stress can trigger psychological malaise. Finally, social problem situations can also make themselves felt in both physical and psychological imbalances.
Mental health disorders are not uncommon in competitive sports. In a separate study on 341 young top athletes (including football players), every tenth athlete had above-average well-being values - recovery and sleep problems were even more common. There are similar results for football teams as well. Even if there is not a serious disorder behind every loss of wellbeing, there are still indications that persist for a season and give cause for clarification.
The causes of mental disorders in professional football are in principle comparable to the causes of disorders in other sports. According to the literature, they can be divided into five major, mutually dependent and overlapping main factors.
Causes of mental disorders in professional football:
- Experiencing failure
- Social conditions
- Recovery under high stress
- Experiencing and coping with injuries
- Organizational conditions of professional sport