How Do I Talk To My Athlete About Therapy?


Cortnee White, Mental Performance Specialist

Parents: How can I approach my athlete about what you do?

Athletes from a very young age are faced with unique challenges and pressures. Then you pair that with pubescence..yeah, things are complicated. My biggest population is around the adolescent age. Whether these athletes are just coming in for sport specific help or more mental health reasons there is usually some hesitation. Something I get asked on regular basis from parents is “How do I approach my athlete about what you do?

For some context, I am a therapist who works in sports. So, I offer counseling for athletes struggling with anxiety, stress, and family or team conflicts. I also help athletes with performance-enhancing mental skills. It can be confusing for parents, coaches, and the athlete to know how to talk about this and what it will even look like. “Am I going to counseling or a mental coach?” “Is there something wrong with me or my skills in sports?” 

I go by many names like mental performance specialist, mental strength coach, sports counselor, athlete therapist, and so on. While there is a pretty big difference between a therapist and a mental skills coach, I can be both. I don’t want to mask or hide who or what I really do but using other terms can be helpful in getting your athlete some help. I hope I can make Athlete Therapist sound cool and exciting one day but for now I’m open to changes. I am a mixture of a sport psychology, therapy, and athlete. 

Baseball player using mental skills while in play.
Baseball player using mental skills while in play.

A few examples of what that means.  

  • I use counseling skills like listening, validating feelings, and positive regard.  
  • I use therapy techniques like CBT which means I believe the way we think has a direct affect on our mood and performance. So, my therapy looks like “what was the thought you had right before you stepped up to the plate?”
  • I use sport psychology techniques for goal setting, focus and concentration. 
  • I use my athlete knowledge and love for sports to connect and understand the culture. 
  • I am licensed, I am supervised, I am trained for the athletes who are maybe struggling on a deeper level that reaches beyond the sport. That licenses and training does wonders for those who just need a little bit of help too. 

Parents, this is for you.

Parents, I know you are still trying to understand what this is too. I am an expert in the field of helping athletes heal, grow, communicate, set goals, get to know themselves as people and athletes, build confidence, and manage the pressures that come with being elite. I am a safe non-judgmental space for your athlete to step away from competition, from perfection, from expectation, and have an hour of conversation, exploration, and hopefully relief. A bonus is I can help in all areas of performance like school, sport, job, and relationships. For the athlete I am much like their coach in that I help them learn new strategies, learn new skills, and work with them in their athletic journey. I am an athlete who helps athletes with the things we cant fix physically. 

Team work on the field and in the home.
Team work on the field and in the home.

Here are some of my tips on talking about it. 

  1. Everyone knows this can be an uncomfortable topic to present and teens can smell fear a mile away. If you’re uncomfortable and unsure they probably will be too. Explore it together!

2. Express your concerns while focusing on specific mood or behavior changes. “I’ve noticed you’ve been coming home from practices looking upset” or “We know you have been struggling with your performance and feeling worried about it” Empathize with them about what you have been noticing. For example: “It can be so frustrating and upsetting to be struggling and not know how to fix it. 

3. Express your limitations and the coaches limitations for helping. Most of the time the athlete has been struggling for a while and parents and coaches just don’t know how else to help. It’s okay to tell your teen this is out of your scope BUT that you know someone who can help! “I wonder if talking to someone that is an expert would help you?” 

4.  Presenting the expert of athletes! You do not have to say therapy or counseling at all. Here’s an example “Miss or coach White helps only athletes including professional ones (that always helps) with things like slumps, mental blocks and even those pre-game jitters. She was an athlete and coach so that’s pretty cool. She could probably really understand and help all of us out. 

5. Teens want to be respected, included and feel like they have some control. Give them options on someone they might like to meet with or maybe even have them do their own research and ask questions. 

I hope this brings some clarity or maybe more questions I can answer. In summary what I do can cover a lot of bases or just one base. Coming to see me does not mean you are crazy, broken, or weak. I hope you can line me up next to the position coach you see weekly, the nutrition coach you check in with monthly, or the strength coach you see every day. We all specialize in areas that the other one doesn’t, all working together to help an athlete stronger in skills, body, and mind. 


Are you an athlete or a parent of an athlete that is struggling with performance declines, anxieties or mental blocks?

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