Examining the role of mental health and clinical issues within talent development

Andy Hill*, Áine MacNamara, Dave Collins, Sheelagh Rodgers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although significant research supports the association between physical activity and mental wellbeing, current literature acknowledges that athletes are no less susceptible to mental illness than the general population. Despite welcomed initiatives aimed at improving mental health within elite sport, these programs often fail to target young athletes; an important concern given that the genesis of many mental illnesses are recognized to occur during this critical period. Given the importance of early intervention and effective treatment, and the potentially devastating consequences of clinical issues going undiagnosed, the implications for talent identification and development (TID) become obvious. With this in mind, this study sought to examine the range of mental health issues that may impact upon developing athletes and potential consequences for the development process, specific risk and protective factors associated with talent development, along with an examination of current practices concerning the identification of mental health issues in such environments. Qualitative interviews were conducted with purposively sampled clinicians (n = 8) experienced in working with adolescents and/or young athletes. Inductive content analysis was undertaken, identifying four main themes: Key behavioral indicators; associated risk factors; associated protective factors; and issues around identification and diagnosis. Key behavioral indicators included behavioral change, along with behaviors associated with eating disorders, anxiety and depression. Risk factors centered on family background, the performance environment, and issues surrounding adolescence. Protective factors were primarily social in nature. Finally, a lack of awareness and understanding of clinical issues, multiple causes of symptoms, non-disclosure and the need for triangulation of assessment were identified. The need for improved identification and intervention strategies was apparent, with coaches identified as well placed to detect general "warning signs" such as behavioral change. Short of integrating trained clinicians into talent development environments, as part of a triangulation process, ecologically validated assessment tools-coupled with appropriate training and signposting-could offer a practical way of flagging potential issues in developing athletes. The need for the development of such an instrument is therefore apparent. Finally, education around the influential role of family is also recommended in order to promote the protective elements and mitigate risk factors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2042
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJAN
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jan 2016


  • Assessment
  • Behavioral change
  • Behavioral indicators
  • Clinical psychology
  • Mental health
  • Talent development
  • Warning signs


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