By Alaina Perdon
Elm Staff Writer
“The grind never stops,” I heard a student boast from behind me in the library, popping open a second double-shot espresso despite the late hour. The frown lines on his face indicate he has been concentrating for the better part of the evening, while the Athey Athletics bag at his feet indicates he will be rising before the sun to attend practice the next day.
In choosing the path of higher education, we have all taken on a certain amount of stress: to perform well academically, to build our resumes, or to become involved on campus. But student athletes comprise an entirely unique community, facing their own challenges in addition to the “normal” college stresses.
“We face all the regular stressors like any other student, and the added stress of competition and practice,” sophomore rower Max Moore said.
An athlete’s time is in high demand. Daily practices, conditioning programs, and travel for competitions must be worked into an already full academic calendar. Social interactions and self-care are often forgone to accommodate this busy schedule.
“Although [rowing] contributes to me not participating in negative behaviors, it also keeps me from going out and enjoying the typical college experience,” Moore said.
Compounding the difficulty of navigating a packed schedule and the disappointment of missing out on common college social interactions, student athletes are also under heavy pressure from their coaches, teammates, and society at large to constantly be performing at their peak capability.
The aforementioned “grind” and the surrounding culture is of great detriment to these students’ mental health. Constant mental and physical exertion only serves to increase instances of anxiety amongst athletes.
Moreover, mental health matters are often minimized in athletic culture, where strength and stability are expected. Students conceal their concerns in fear of backlash from their team, only exacerbating the problem.
“As a result, student-athletes often avoid disclosing a mental health concern, especially if the perceived negative consequence includes being rejected by teammates or coaches due to the disclosure,” National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) representatives said in a Sport Science Institute study on intercollegiate athlete mental health.
Should an athlete come forward with a mental health issue, appropriate resources are seldom available. The challenges faced by student athletes are generally outside of the realm of a typical counselor.
“[Student athletes] depend on campus resources such as student counseling centers to refer for mental health issues,” NCAA representatives said. “The problem there is that few student counseling centers employ a psychologist who has the training/education to address student-athletes’ unique psychological needs.”
Mental healthcare for college students is lacking in general; however, there seems to exist a particular disregard for the mental wellbeing of athletes who face a unique set of challenges.
Yet, as mental healthcare becomes more widely accepted, athletic organizations are beginning to incorporate sports psychologists into their programming. According to the NCAA, these professionals are trained in handling an array of issues from the substance abuse and eating disorders common in student athletes to working out a more amenable schedule.
Student athletes are a great asset to any college, not just for the positive publicity and financial gain athletic successes bring an institution, but for their intrinsic value as members of the campus community. They should not be exploited, forced to push themselves into a state of physical and mental fatigue in pursuit of championship titles. Rather, they should be provided with the care they need in order to ensure they can continue participating in the activities they are clearly passionate about.