The stigma around mental health in collegiate sports

Megan Grams, Sports Editor

Being a student-athlete of multiple sports in high school is tough. However, being a student athlete in college is a whole new ballgame.

Typically, student-athletes in college only play one sport, but in some cases there are dual-sport athletes. At the collegiate level, maintaining schoolwork on top of practices and travelling for days to compete in tournaments and other sporting events is a different type of challenge in comparison to high school sports. Now, if you were to come across a rare dual-sport collegiate athlete, that challenge is only increased.

There are several pressures and demands that student-athletes face, many are seen and there are a few that remain unseen. Collegiate athletes’ performances are critiqued, and their wins and losses are more monitored, discussed, and questioned at a larger level than they were in high school. These critiques are harsh on the mind and body of someone 18-21 years old.

However, it is not just the actual game-time performances and wins and losses that can strain student-athletes. Their time demands throughout the week are very strenuous.  Majority of student-athletes practice every day of the week, with strength training, conditioning, and for some sports rehab and medicine appointments. On top of this work load for sports, they have to manage their time for the homework received in their respected programs which sometimes can take hours at a time to finish. Time management in a student-athlete’s realm is difficult, especially when schedules include travel days (sometimes changing time zones) which sometimes can take the student out of class. However, academic advisors and professors work together to try and make the work load a bit easier for travelling athletes.

With all of this to consider it should not be a big surprise that student-athletes’ mental health can be affected. An ideal person to help these student-athletes would be someone specifically and well-trained in sport-psychology. Unfortunately according to the NCAA, over the past 20 years, in college sports, the sports psychologists’ role has evolved more slowly than student-athletes’ needs. There are several factors that contribute to the slow evolution of college sport psychologists.

The ongoing stigma of mental health continues to affect collegiate athletics. According to the NCAA, athletes, coaches, and staff tend to minimize psychological distress or mental disorders due to the expectations of “strength, stability, and ‘mental toughness’ inherent in the sports culture”. In a result of this, many student-athletes resolve to avoiding discussing their psychological distresses or concerns, especially if they fear rejection from teammates or disapproval from coaches.

If a student-athlete does express their concerns about his/her concerns and there is something found wrong, often times there are not enough resources available to help them. According to the NCAA, there are not a lot of programs that have full-time or even part-time psychologists on staff prepared to help these student-athletes.

Due to the lack of support from athletic programs and the fear student-athletes have about concerning their issues is a problem that needs attention immediately. Mental health should be an important aspect when developing these young adults for when they graduate.

Ultimately improving a student-athlete’s mental state will in return improve their academic performance and their performance in their sport. A student-athlete’s happiness is a top priority when juggling school and sports, and should be taken seriously.


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