Psychological Distress and Its Association with Subjective Athletic Performance


  • Tyler Malone University of Michigan
  • Adam Kern Counseling and Psychological Services, University of Michigan
  • Emily Klueh Department of Athletics, University of Michigan
  • Daniel Eisenberg Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan


Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, College, Student-athlete


General measures of non-specific psychological distress have received less attention in empirical studies of athletic performance. This study sought to examine the association between psychological distress and the athletic performance of college student-athletes. Study participants included 43 undergraduate varsity student-athletes. Among these participants, 74.4% were female. We used a longitudinal observational study design and collected data during a 12-week period on weekly psychological distress and athletic performance. We used linear Fixed Effects modeling to regress performance on psychological distress, while controlling for static subject characteristics (e.g., stable personality traits, sex, and sport) and dynamic sleep and physical health. Model results demonstrated that score on the six-item Kessler Psychological Distress Scale significantly predicted athletic performance (B = −0.16, 95% CI [−0.21, −0.10], p < .001), adjusting for other model covariates. Specifically, a one standard deviation increase in K6 score was associated with a 0.28 standard deviation decrease in athletic performance, adjusting for all other covariates in the model. Overall, our findings suggest that after controlling for other static and dynamic predictors of athletic performance, increased psychological distress has a significant, negative association with short-term athletic performance among college student-athletes. Going forward, additional research is needed to continue exploring the relationship between static and dynamic psychological characteristics, physiological health, and athletic performance.


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