Team Psychologist for Denver Nuggets on Mental Health in Sports

We spoke with CU Medicine provider Alex Reed, PsyD about the role he plays as the lead team psychologist for two professional sports teams and about the unique mental challenges these players face.

The life of a professional athlete is filled with immense physical and mental demands – grueling training, intense pressure to perform, constant public scrutiny and the ever-present risk of a career-altering injury. Yet, mental health is often overlooked in sports, despite its profound impact on overall well-being and success.

Leading the charge in prioritizing mental wellness for elite athletes is Alex Reed, PsyD, the Director of Behavioral Health Science Education at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. As the lead team psychologist for the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids, Dr. Reed brings extensive expertise in supporting the psychological well-being and performance of these world-class competitors.


Unique Mental Health Challenges for Pro Athletes

"Mental health and mental wellness are important for all of us," Dr. Reed emphasizes. "For athletes in particular, there's a lot that goes into their sport beyond just physical training."

In addition to honing tactical and technical skills, professional athletes must also develop the psychological fortitude to thrive under immense pressure. The relentless expectation to perform at the highest level, coupled with intense public scrutiny and the looming fear of a career-ending injury, can severely impact an athlete's mental well-being. 

"As an example, if you're not sleeping well, that is certainly going to affect your performance, your ability to remember plays and how you manage the physical and psychological stressors you may be facing," Dr. Reed explains.

The Vital Role of a Sports Team Psychologist

Providing critical mental health support, the sports team psychologist plays a crucial role in helping elite athletes cultivate the resilience and focus needed to excel, even in their toughest moments on and off the court or field.

"First and foremost, the athletes I work with are individuals who have worked exceptionally hard to reach their level of excellence," says Dr. Reed. "So initially, it's important to establish a relationship with them so they can be open to listening to what I have to share."

From there, Dr. Reed utilizes a broad range of strategies to support players, such as helping them move past rumination after a missed play or goal, or providing techniques for better sleep to aid physical and mental recovery.

Strategies employed by sports team psychologists include:

  • Mindfulness and meditation practices
  • Visualization and mental imagery exercises
  • Cognitive behavioral techniques for reframing negative thoughts
  • Sleep support and relaxation techniques
  • Breathing exercises for managing anxiety and stress
  • Teamwork and collaboration exercises

Fostering a Positive Team Culture

After an intense playoff run, maintaining a positive and supportive team culture becomes paramount during high-pressure moments.

Dr. Reed plays a crucial role in fostering an environment where open communication and discussions around mental health are encouraged and destigmatized. 

"Early on, I do team-building work with players to foster trust with one another and overall collaboration," shares Dr. Reed. "During the playoffs with the Denver Nuggets, I've been sending motivating quotes to players from the likes of Muhammad Ali and Kobe Bryant to give them something else to think about."

The impact of this positive team culture can be seen in the Denver Nuggets’ resilience and performance during their playoff run as well as in the overall well-being and camaraderie of the players Dr. Reed works with.

Prioritizing Mental Health for All

While the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids have made mental well-being a priority within their organizations, the importance of mental health extends far beyond the world of professional sports. 

"Mental health is an integral part of overall well-being," Dr. Reed emphasizes. "Just as we prioritize physical exercise and proper nutrition, we must also make time to nurture our mental and emotional health." 

To support this holistic approach, many of CU Medicine's family medicine clinics offer integrated mental health services, providing patients with access to therapists and psychologists alongside their primary care providers. This collaborative care model ensures mental health support is readily available and destigmatized, empowering patients to prioritize their psychological well-being as they would any other aspect of their healthcare.

To learn more and schedule an appointment at CU Medicine click here.


Alex Reed, PsyD, MPH is the lead team psychologist for the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Rapids. He is the Director of Behavioral Health Science Education and assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in the Department of Family Medicine and Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Reed treats patients at UCHealth A.F. Williams Family Medicine Clinic – Central Park.


CATEGORIES: Mental Health

This post was originally posted on 5/20/2024