The Top 9 Challenges Athletes Face

April 24, 2019

The Top 9 Challenges Athletes Face


Just think of how many are the challenges professional athletes face every day. Being able to balance your personal life and the strict training schedule is exhausting.

The lost matches, the missed milestones, the mental struggles that you need to let go. If you are on your way of becoming a professional athlete, the faster you will be able to cope with these, the better the chances that you will be experiencing success in both your personal and professional life.


1. Being able to handle the pressure for performance.

Without a doubt, this one is the number one challenge professional athletes face. The pressure of personal achievement and the fear of failure is a vicious cycle that needs to be broken mentally in order to move forward.

You will never be able to perform the way you want if fear is holding you back. Practicing mental techniques will definitely help you elevate your success in your athletic career.

As you probably know and as most of the elite athletes agree on is that mentality and success go hand in hand. There is a direct correlation between these two.

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.–Henry Ford


Check out our article providing you with the 5 main mental practices you can follow in order to perfect your mental state.

The more consistent you will be in practicing those 5 points, the faster you will realize that your mind will be reprogrammed in responding differently in stressful situations where the pressure of performing the best way possible is building up.

Imagine you are a basketball player and the game is towards its end. The ball is in your hands and your team’s winning depends entirely on you and this last free throw.

How do you feel? You wish that the ball was in someone else’s hands or you feel lucky to have it in this crucial moment?

If the first case scenario describes your current mentality, then you should work on reprogramming your brain completely in order to get rid of that fear that consumes you.

It is perfectly normal for all athletes, even the elite athletes feel the pressure building up when they are faced with a situation like this. But they have learned to control this feeling and transform it into a feeling of excitement and positive energy than letting it transform into fear and low self-esteem.

Here is a motivational video on how to turn failure into success:

Worrying too much is another mental challenge athletes face.

Worrying about the results, the game conditions, the abilities of the opposing team can increase the mental pressure, but they lead to absolutely nowhere.

The only thing that can happen is channeling your focus somewhere that you should not, somewhere that does not matter. Worrying about the things you cannot control or things that have not yet happened is absolutely pointless.

Try to think logically when your mind is drifting into the negative and focus on giving your best self, visualizing yourself performing the best way possible and your team winning.

This is the mentality you should have every time before a game or even when you are training.


Overcome Performance anxiety with this Practice. Do not let your mind clutter with all the “what ifs”!!


At the end of the day, do not forget that the pressure you feel is something you are creating. You are giving life to a monster that does not really exist. You are in complete control of thoughts. Focus on the process and have trust in your abilities.


2. Relationship with Coaches

You would think that a relationship between you and your manager or coach is not something that could affect your performance.

However, this is not the case. The coach and athlete relationship is definitely a huge performance factor. Do not forget that coaches are known as the athlete’s main caregiver so it would not come as a surprise if we said having a balanced relationship is crucial in order to move forward.

Like any other healthy relationship, in order for you to grow as a person, there needs to be mutual understanding, respect, and trust between the two members.

Exactly like a friendship, or a romantic relationship, both parts need to work hard on keeping the bond strength in order to last.

Athletes are very often developing a very close attachment to their coach as they are the main and primary reason why an athlete is able to explore their role in the sport and be pushed beyond their boundaries and comfort zone.

The coach has the same responsibility for the athlete as parents have for their children. The coach needs to be a constant source of motivation and support as well as a mental teacher.

When a strong bond has been created then it is certain that the athlete will be affected accordingly thus his/her performance.


According to a study which consisted of 27 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and 30 Coaches, it was found that among the 5 most distinguishing factors for delivering Olympic personal best was the Coach and Athlete relationship.


The main success key factors were:

  • The Coach-Athlete relationship

  • The level of the athletes’ mental state

  • The Quality of the training environment

  • The Management of the competition environment

  • The Support mechanisms


As a result, it would be useful to evaluate the quality of your relationship with your Coach or athletes.

Having established how the Coach-athlete relationship is a critical factor in an athletes’ performances in both practice and especially in competition, it is critical to realize this relationship does not happen instantly. Instead, it needs to develop over time just like any quality, trusting relationship.

Coaches and athletes can develop very strong bonds with the athletes and help give strength to the team.

Among the most important aspects of such a strong relationship are the following:

  • Constant communication

  • Authentic Interest

  • Availability

  • Trust

When a coach communicates and shows authentic interest, the result will be a trusting relationship. Once that is settled, athletes usually trust more, follow instruction without question, and generally enjoy the whole experience.

We asked 7 athletes about their own challenges during their journey towards becoming a professional athlete. This is what they shared with us:

3. Preserving the level of Motivation

Having a full season calendar is very easy to get into a repeated routine that steals off an athletes sense of motivation and sense of excitement.

Everything that is happening repeatedly created a sense of boredom as it is in human nature.

Motivation is what keeps athletes pushing for the best possible performance. Without this, a professional athlete or a team is most likely to fail in achieving their goals in the short and long term.

Athletes must create an efficient structure that recalls their passion for the sport and the satisfaction that comes with it.

There are many ways for an athlete to stay motivated through tough times and stay committed to the goal.

Dorothy Hamill, an American Figure skater once said:

It’s like a marriage, you don’t walk away from it. 

There are times that athletes are seriously struggling to motivate themselves, but they need to remind themselves why they started in the first place.

What was the reason why they have made all these sacrifices so far and what is the emotions they experience when they are competing.


Here are 5 ways Olympians stay motivated:

  • They talk themselves through the stress

This means that they were rationally thinking and performing some self-talk. This is a process where athlete analyses which are the main potential stressors, how they can be controlled and talking oneself through the problem rationally.

  • They remind themselves how much they love the grind

It is not surprising to find out that the number one motivator for athletes was the feeling of joy when competing and the thrill they were experiencing.

Also, they love working out as much as they enjoy competing. The idea of pushing their limits and being challenged is what fuels them emotionally and physically.

  • They stay optimistic

Yes I know, it is probably the most cliché tip ever. But it works. Focusing on the positive side of thoughts and being optimistic tends to help your performance overall.

In another study of 10 participants , “having a strong belief in your ability to achieve goals,” was found to be the most common definition of “mental toughness” among the athletes. The participants also believed they possessed “unique qualities and abilities” that made them better than their opponents.

Failures are a part of the game; you simply cannot avoid them. The only difference however with professional and elite athletes, is that although they experience those failures, they find a way to quickly overcome it and turn it into a positive experience, such as a lesson that taught them things to avoid.


Failure and setbacks and struggles are where all the good stuff happens, if you can take that approach.


Have a look at what 7 championsid athletes shared with us on what motivates them the most when things get tough:

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe-Muhammad Ali.

  • They anticipate things before they even happen.

This idea is simple. The brain is programmed in a certain way when we are face to face with challenges.

If a particular training session or competition seems overwhelming to an athlete, then the brain’s motivation centers might lose strength or momentum and the person would feel like they could not go on.

Top athletes have learned a way to anticipate upcoming pressures and adapt to them very quickly.

This gets better with the practice of course. Trying to shift your thoughts as soon as you feel like you are drifting to the negative is a matter of practice and it does not happen in one night. It is one of the many mental challenges you have face if you want to become a professional athlete.

  • They try Mindfulness

This is another way to grow as an athlete mentally. Although this word is often misunderstood or loosely defined, all it means is being able to focus on the moment and pay attention to your experiences without allowing distractions interfere.

Athletes who experience this feeling of being in control of their actions witnessed a change in their reactions towards stressful situations.

According to a 2009 paper in the Journal of Clinical Sports Psychology:


Elite golfers who had been trained in mindfulness techniques, such as greater awareness of breathing or accepting emotions without judgment, all increased their national rankings, compared with only two golfers in the control group


4. Vision of career

What you are planning to do in the future must be your choice and only yours.

Often professional athletes rely too much on their managers and as a result, they let all of their career management in their hands.

Playing is not the only thing you need to focus on. Creating a life plan that stretches beyond your sports career will prepare you and give you the power to face future challenges.


5. Travelling and Family responsibilities

The lifestyle from the outside may look glamorous but ask many athletes how it feels and they will tell you how draining traveling constantly is, what the toll on the body feels like and also how it affects their relationships.

Some athletes have to be away from home between 250 and 280 days each year. This makes family managing extremely challenging.

Whilst the athletes are actually away there are different challenges, including the regular maintenance of communication and partners occasionally feeling underappreciated. The key to keeping the relationship healthy is to communication in a regular basis, spend quality time together via a Skype call and recognize the commitment along the way.

For many professional athletes, being away also means making huge sacrifices for the family as it is not only a personal goal that they are achieving. Everybody needs to work and help each other the best way possible.


6. Enjoy the training, practices as well as game day

We talked about motivation and ways to keep your excitement and passion alive for the sport.

When you love what you are doing, it does not necessarily mean that you also love the process of training behind it. Training can be really tough sometimes, testing your mental and physical toughness to the limit.

We totally get it. It cannot always be fun, as it is not always fun at work for someone that has an office job.

It is a work that needs to be done though. Nothing can be achieved without hard work and consistency. Nothing can be achieved without putting your mind and soul in it.

There will be days that you would not want to get up from the bed, but you need to do it. This is what elite professional athletes are doing anyway.

This struggle is a part of the game and once you conquer this state of mind, you will find yourself enjoying even the struggles during the training and the practices.

Many athletes are creating a pleasant perception in their minds for the work they have to put in, this is what ignites their fire about the sport and everything that surrounds it.


7. Relationship with Other Team Players

Teamwork is the alpha and the omega for a powerful team. It is the foundation of sporting success. This is always the case for athletes competing in individual sports as well as in team sports.

The development of self-awareness and understanding of oneself as well as the others are the key to building effective working relationships.

Having a strong understanding relationship is the most important aspect of working together and it is the same one in any other relationship either it is an office professional environment or a family.

All teams in order to work together seamlessly and without issues are understanding. Within a team, there will be members that differ in achievements and physical ability. There is also the idea that people who are stronger and physically fit would be on the top. This idea is fundamentally incorrect for many reasons.

Physical strength might be a very critical component of someone’s overall performance, but the mental ability is maybe even of stronger importance for elite athletes.

Being a reliable, trustworthy teammate, means that you have worked on your mental capabilities as well which we have covered in a previous chapter.

Team performance is a very complex combination of different dynamics and not just a sum of parts that stay stable. Everyone is from a different background with a different personality, character, way of reacting to stressful situations.

Uncovering the behavioral and emotional differences of each team member will empower teams to consider the impact they have on others and will, therefore, help them to understand where they may need to modify.

With this new found knowledge of themselves and their teammates, it will help their understanding of how best to communicate, how to motivate others and ultimately how to develop team working skills that will have the biggest influence on performance.

Team motivation must be the number one element that must be pursued no matter what the differences between the members are.

Motivating each other is something that makes a crucial difference in improving team performance.

When team members work together for a common goal there is little they cannot accomplish. When everybody is working towards a common goal and looking at the bigger picture then you increase the chances of developing individually and as a team.


8. Funding for Athletes

Funding can be one of the most frustrating issues for an athlete that has all the talent in the world.

How can you move forward and receive funding in order to complete on a higher and higher level? Whatever the level, unfortunately, there is not enough funding for every athlete out there no matter what their level of professionalism is.

Either you are a professional athlete or still, on an amateur level, the problems in fundraising have similarities. Many athletes struggle with poor funding from sports associations, neglected training facilities, very old equipment, all associated with the lack of money.

No matter if you are a professional or an amateur athlete, you will probably face the reality of not having enough money to cover all the expenses.

Tickets to competitions, the money you need to pay for training with the best, under the best conditions, the amount of money you need to pay to rent equipment, the fees of a tournament and the rent of the accommodation you will stay. All of these expenses are unbearable and although some athletes can secure a very good deal with a couple of brands, those are the exceptions.

Only athletes who compete in high-profile sports can secure significant sponsorship revenue. Let’s not talk about the possibility of an injury or poor performance because then, the pay is affected dramatically. If your sport is not in the list of the most common ones, for example, skating, or kayaking – or your performance will not be that great, this will affect your paycheck.

There are many ways of getting the necessary funding and that’s where crowdfunding appears.

This is where teams of individual athletes are turning to in order to cover their expenses for travel, participation and more.


The best sites for crowdfunding for athletes will definitely help you and they are the following:

Have in mind that in order for all of those crowdfunding to work, you need to work on your engagement in your social media network. The bigger the network of support, the better the chances of bigger rewards.

Whether you are a basketball, soccer, football player or even a cheerleading organization you need to choose the best fundraising solution for you to get started.


 9. Retirement

 You know it is going to happen. It is inevitable. As you also know that you will eventually retire from any other ordinary job.

The reality, however, is that when it does happen, athletes face a very tough time transitioning to a new way of living.

Some athletes may retire earlier than others, eventually, though, all will call it a day, one day.

What athletes experience when they retire is mostly a lack of structure in their lives. This means that as an athlete, you mostly follow a strict daily training schedule that after so many years, although it is the hardest part of being an athlete, is what gives you the most pleasure.

So even though retired athletes might feel in the early days after retirement that they have the freedom to do whatever they want, they find themselves being lost, unaware what to do to fill in their free time.

Building a new structure in life and having a daily routine that consists of simple things will make a huge difference in adjusting.

Hand in hand after retirement comes the feeling of not having a specific identity as a person. When you’ve always seen yourself as an athlete, and when everybody else around you, know you as one, then not having that role anymore can be challenging. Never forget that what you have done and achieved as an athlete is something that cannot be erased. You still have the identity of an athlete even when you retire. The difference is that your identity now is an athlete and something else. Find things that make you passionate and inspired.

 Retirement is a tough transition in an athletes’ life, no matter the sport. Athletes think that nothing else will excite them anymore in life outside the field. Especially being an elite athlete or a world champion. When you have had experiences like huge crowds cheering for you.

It is very understandable for retired athletes to feel depressed after their career is over. The key, however, is to find balance and a new perspective in life. Grieving the end of the athletic years is a part of retirement. Grieving however should be a phase, as it should be with everything in life in order to go on.

The sooner you accept the change and you let go of the negative feelings the sooner you will adjust to your new life chapter and the happier you will be.

As an athlete, you might know already that having the right mentality is one of the biggest weapons in your advantage. Being able to adjust, think clearly, appreciate things is a part of being a mindful athlete and a human being. Appreciate life and its inevitable changes and you will soon gain the balance you were looking for.


No matter what the challenge is, there is always a way to face it and overcome it.

We hope we helped you understand a bit deeper what becoming a professional athlete means and the challenges that come along.

Being prepared for all of them will help you be stronger, more ready and better equipped to overcome everything that will come your way.

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