School Mental Health

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 166–174 | Cite as

Psychological Symptoms and Chronic Mood in Representative Samples of Elite Student-Athletes, Deselected Student-Athletes and Comparison Students

  • Ralf BrandEmail author
  • Wanja Wolff
  • Jürgen Hoyer
Original Paper


Stress-levels experienced by school-aged elite athletes are pronounced, but data on their mental health status are widely lacking. In our study, we examined self-reported psychological symptoms and chronic mood. Data from a representative sample of 866 elite student-athletes (aged 12–15 years), enrolled in high-performance sport programming in German Elite Schools of Sport, were compared with data from 80 student-athletes from the same schools who have just been deselected from elite sport promotion, and from 432 age- and sex-matched non-sport students from regular schools (without such programming). Anxiety symptoms were least prevalent in female elite student-athletes. In male elite student-athletes, only symptoms of posttraumatic stress were less prevalent than in the other groups. Somatoform symptoms were generally more frequent in athletes, a trend that was significantly pronounced in deselected athletes. Deselected athletes showed an increased risk for psychological symptoms compared with both other groups. Regarding chronic mood, again deselected athletes showed less positive scores. While there was a trend toward high-performance sport being associated with better psychological health at least in girls, preventative programs should take into account that deselection from elite sport programming may be associated with specific risks for mental disorders.


School Mental health Mental disorders Competitive sport Forced drop-out 



The authors would like to thank Stephen Crawcour, PhD, TU Dresden, who helped editing this manuscript.


  1. Alfermann, D. (2000). Causes and consequences of sport career termination. In D. Lavallee & P. Wylleman (Eds.), Career transitions in sport: International perspectives (pp. 45–58). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.Google Scholar
  2. Ali, I., Salzberg, M. R., French, C., & Jones, N. C. (2011). Electrophysiological insights into the enduring effects of early life stress on the brain. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 214, 155–173. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2125-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brettschneider, W. D. (1999). Risks and opportunities: Adolescents in top-level sport—growing up with the pressures of school and training. European Physical Education Review, 5, 121–133. doi: 10.1177/1356336X990052004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Christensen, M. K., & Sørensen, J. K. (2009). Sport or school? Dreams and dilemmas for talented young Danish football players. European Physical Education Review, 15, 115–133. doi: 10.1177/1356336X09105214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Donohue, B., Covassin, T., Lancer, K., Dickens, Y., Miller, A., Hash, A., et al. (2004). Examination of psychiatric symptoms in student athletes. Journal of General Psychology, 131, 29–35. doi: 10.3200/genp.131.1.29-35.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dowdy, E., Ritchey, K., & Kamphaus, R. W. (2010). School-based screening: A population-based approach to inform and monitor children’s mental health needs. School Mental Health, 2(4), 166–176. doi: 10.1007/s12310-010-9036-3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dunn, A. L., Trivedi, M. H., Kampert, J. B., Clark, C. G., & Chambliss, H. O. (2005). Exercise treatment for depression: Efficacy and dose response. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 1–8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2004.09.003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eccles, J. S., & Barber, B. L. (1999). Student council, volunteering, basketball, or marching band. Journal of Adolescent Research, 14, 10–43. doi: 10.1177/0743558499141003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Emrich, E., Fröhlich, M., Klein, M., & Pitsch, W. (2009). Evaluation of the elite schools of sport. Empirical findings from an individual and collective point of view. International Review of Sociology in Sports, 44, 151–171. doi: 10.1177/1012690209104797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ericsson, K. A. (Ed.). (1996). The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports, and games. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Fraser-Thomas, J., Côté, J., & Deakin, J. (2008). Examining adolescent sport dropout and prolonged engagement from a developmental perspective. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20, 318–333. doi: 10.1080110413200802163549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glick, I. D., Kamm, R., & Morse, E. (2009). The evolution of sport psychiatry, Circa 2009. Sports Medicine, 39, 607–613. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200939080-00001.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Humphrey, J. H., Yow, D. A., & Bowden, W. W. (2000). Stress in college athletics: Causes, consequences, coping. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Half-Court Press.Google Scholar
  14. Ingram, R. E., & Luxton, D. D. (2005). Vulnerability-stress models. In B. L. Hankin & J. R. Z. Abela (Eds.), Development of psychopathology: A vulnerability-stress perspective (pp. 32–46). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Janelle, C. M., & Hillman, C. H. (2003). Expert performance in sport: Current perspectives and critical issues. In J. L. Starkes & K. A. Ericsson (Eds.), Expert performance in sports (pp. 19–48). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.Google Scholar
  16. Kessler, H., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593–602.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kimball, A., & Freysinger, V. J. (2003). Leisure, stress, and coping: The sport participation of collegiate student-athletes. Leisure Sciences, 25, 115–141. doi: 10.1080/01490400390211790.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kreuter, M. W., & Wray, R. J. (2003). Tailored and targeted health communication: Strategies for enhancing information relevance. American Journal of Health Behaviour, 27(suppl 3), S227–S232. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.27.1.s3.6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Le Bars, H., Gernigon, C., & Ninot, G. (2008). Personal and contextual determinants of elite young athletes’ persistence or dropping out over time. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 19, 274–285. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2008.00786.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Leichliter, J. S., Meilman, P. W., Presley, C. A., & Cashin, J. R. (1998). Alcohol use and related consequences among students with varying levels of involvement in college. Journal of American College Health, 46, 257. doi: 10.1080/07448489809596001.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. O’Brien, K. S., Hunter, J., Kypri, K., & Ali, A. (2008). Gender equality in university sportspeople’s drinking. Drug and Alcohol Review, 27, 659–665. doi: 10.1080/09595230801935664.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Papanikolaou, Z., Nikolaidis, D., Patsiaouras, A., & Alexopoulos, P. (2003). The freshman experience: High stress-low grades. Athletic Insight: The On-line Journal of Sport Psychology, 5. doi: 10.1234/12345678.
  23. Reardon, C. L., & Factor, R. M. (2010). Sport psychiatry: A systematic review of diagnosis and medical treatment of mental illness in athletes (Report). Sports Medicine, 40, 961–980. doi: 10.2165/11536580-000000000-00000.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. State, T. M., Kern, L., Starosta, K. M., & Mukherjee, A. D. (2011). Elementary pre-service teacher preparation in the area of social, emotional, and behavioral problems. School Mental Health, 3(1), 13–23. doi: 10.1007/s12310-010-9044-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Steyer, R., Schwenkmezger, P., Notz, P., & Eid, M. (1997). Der Mehrdimensionale Befindlichkeitsfragebogen. Göttingen: Hogrefe. English version available [retrieved 2011 Feb 10] from
  26. Storch, E. A., Storch, J. B., Killiany, E. M., & Roberti, J. W. (2005). Self-reported psychopathology in athletes: A comparison of intercollegiate student-athletes and non-athletes. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 28, 86–98.Google Scholar
  27. Torstveit, M. K., Rosenvinge, J. H., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2008). Prevalence of eating disorders and the predictive power of risk models in female elite athletes: A controlled study. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, 18, 108–118. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2007.00657.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Twenge, J. M., Gentile, B., DeWall, C. N., Ma, D., Lacefield, K., & Schurtz, D. R. (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 145–154. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2009.10.005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Vaeyens, R., Güllich, A., Warr, C., & Philippaerts, R. (2009). Talent identification and promotion programmes of Olympic athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27, 1367–1380. doi: 10.1080/02640410903110974.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Vaeyens, R., Lenoir, M., Williams, A., & Philippaerts, R. (2008). Talent identification and development programmes in sport: Current models and future directions. Sports Medicine, 38, 703–714. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200838090-00001.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Webb, W. M., Nasco, S. A., Riley, S., & Headrick, B. (1998). Athlete identity and reactions to retirement from sport. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 21, 338–362.Google Scholar
  32. Wechsler, H., & Nelson, T. F. (2001). Alcohol and college athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33, 43–47.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Wilson, G., & Pritchard, M. (2005). Comparing sources of stress in college student athletes and non-athletes. Athletic Insight, 7, 1–8.Google Scholar
  34. Wittchen, H. U., Höfler, M., Gander, F., Pfister, H., Storz, S., Üstün, B., et al. (1999). Screening for mental disorders: Performance of the Composite International Diagnostic-Screener (CID-S). International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, 8, 59–70. doi: 10.1002/mpr.57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. World Health Organization (1997). Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI, Version 2.1). Geneva: World Health Organization.Google Scholar
  36. Wylleman, P., Alfermann, D., & Lavallee, D. (2004). Career transitions in sport: European perspectives. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 5, 7–20. doi: 10.1016/S1469-0292(02)00049-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wylleman, P., & De Knop, P. (1997). The role and influence of the psycho-social environment on the career transitions of student-athletes. In J. Bangsbo, B. Saltin, H. Bonde, Y. Hellsten, B. Ibsen, M. Kjaer, et al. (Eds.), Book of abstracts 2nd annual congress of the European college of sport science (pp. 90–91). Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sport and Exercise PsychologyUniversity of PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Technical University of DresdenDresdenGermany

Personalised recommendations