Comparing Mental Health of Athletes and Non-Athletes as they Emerge from a COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown

Christopher Knowles, Stephen Shannon, Garry Prentice, Gavin Breslin

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27 Citations (Scopus)
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Athletes going through transition periods such as injury or retirement have previously reported feelings of depression and anxiety, especially when feeling unsupported. Cessation of competitive sport during the pandemic has forced athletes through a non-normative transition and has reduced many opportunities to satisfy their basic psychological needs increasing the risk of poor wellbeing and loneliness. Whilst athletes are often praised for their resilience—a trait that serves to support them during tough times—the inability to play sport can be particularly challenging for those with strong athletic identities. An online cross-sectional survey (n = 744) was conducted to capture adult athlete and non-athlete mental health factors (specifically wellbeing, depression, anxiety, loneliness) during emergence from a COVID-19 lockdown. Results showed that resilience was positively correlated with mental health but was no higher in athletes than non-athletes. Furthermore, athletes reported greater anxiety than non-athletes, a difference mediated by negative affectivity—a subfactor of athletic identity. We present evidence that after a temporary transition away from sport, athletes’ resilience is comparable to non-athletes leaving them just as likely to suffer poor mental health. Moreover, athletes with strong athletic identities are likely to experience anxiety symptoms above and beyond those reported by non-athletes. Findings have implications for the development of self-management guidance for athletes as the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions on sport participation continue.
Original languageEnglish
Article number612532
Number of pages11
Journal Frontiers in Sports and Active Living
Early online date20 May 2021
Publication statusPublished online - 20 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2021 Knowles, Shannon, Prentice and Breslin.


  • Athlete
  • Athletic identity
  • Resilience
  • Wellbeing
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness


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