Fox Sports News recently released a story about mental health issues among collegiate female student athletes. Apparently, mental health has been the number one health and safety concern in the NCAA since 2013.
According to the NCAA, physical and mental health are two sides of the same coin. When a physical problem occurs, they often have a psychological or emotional consequence to an athlete and when a psychological problem exists, and can lead to a physical consequence affecting an athlete’s athletic performance.
When discussing the barriers student athletes have to overcome in college, one would only consider athlete’s having to juggle academics and athletics yet there’s more to the everyday struggle of these collegiate athletes. Being a student athlete, students are faced with the difficult task of dealing with anxiety, performances, relationships, and depression on a daily basis. For some, it can all become overbearing.
Mental health plagues the world of female collegiate athletes as they deal with the daily burden of struggling their academic, athletic, and social lives. Faced with many barriers throughout the semester than the average college student, college athletes’ deals with the pressures and expectations from their peers, family, coaches, and professors. For female student athletes who fall short on mental health, suffers from anxiety and depression.
Time management is a skill required of every student athlete upon entering college. Failure to do so, could possibly lead to anxiety. Balancing work, practice, competition, and classes, players do their best at juggling it all. According to the head softball coach and athletic advisor LaWanda Pearson, the most challenging thing about being a student athlete is time management. Coaches do their best to structure practice around classes, but once in season, student athlete’s schedule can become quite hectic.
Coach Pearson said she tries scheduling games and practices around her players but with 21 girls on the roster, the task can be quite difficult. “Normally, we’ll start practice at 4 or 4:30 p.m. that’s usually when everyone is out of class. For games, we try to schedule weekend games so the players won’t miss much of school. If we do have to play games during the week, we try to keep it evenly disperse between the days so students won’t be missing the same classes in one week,” said Pearson.
However, due to severe weather conditions this season, Coach Pearson was unable to maintain her original schedule because of games and tournaments being rescheduled.
For Desiah Wofford, time management has always been a struggle. Wofford is a sophomore, biology major and centerfield starter for the Lady Panthers. She said if it had not been for the grace of God and sacrifices, she would not have been very successful in the classroom. Making the sacrifice to stay in to do work rather than going out to party has become a routine for her.
Luckily, some of Wofford’s professors were understanding of the demands of a student athlete and offer to work with her one on one. Occasionally, when the stress becomes too much, Wofford would have a drink or two to help put her at ease.
Ki’esha Young, a junior psychology major, has also struggle with time management. “I have a hard time keeping up with deadlines for assignments and making time to meet with my group in between games and practices. I find myself doing a lot of last minute work, but I get it done,” said Young.
As the athletic academic advisor for all student athletes, Coach Pearson expects every athlete to dedicate at least 20 hours a week for both sport and academics. Combined with the pre-existing notion for every credit hour you should study at least three hours, student athletes rarely get the amount of sleep their bodies need when undergoing strenuous physical activity when maintaining such a rigorous schedule.
“I had to dismiss a player from practice during midterms because she was in no condition to play,” said Coach Pearson. Apparently, the player did not sleep for two days due to writing papers and cramming for tests. “It would not have been as bad, but she had not eaten that day as well. She claimed she didn’t have enough time, but as a college athlete, you should make time.”
Everyday, college athletes are faced with the task of performing to the best of their ability. No matter the stakes or circumstances, they are expected to go out and give it their best shot with little room for error. As the level of commitment grows from high school to college, so does the expectation of performance.
College athletes are seen as role models and leaders amongst the student body and in the community. They are believed to be equipped for the task prior coming to college. Coach Pearson believes academics should be the athlete top priority. Afterwards, should follow athleticism and ambassadorship.
Student athlete’s role extends beyond the institution. This school year alone, Coach Pearson had her girls perform over 30 hours of community service. “As a collegiate team, our presence should be known in the community. We should inspire and encourage others to strive for greatness, with us leading by example,” said Coach Pearson.
Clark Atlanta University applies their motto “culture for service” to the expectations of all of their student athletes.
According to Coach Pearson, all players feel the pressure to perform; it’s a part of their natural competiveness. They get paid to do a job and when the job is not done, there scholarship is in jeopardy.
For some student athletes, scholarships are the only reason they are able to attend college. Maintaining both their academic and athletic scholarship is a main concern for Young. Because Clark Atlanta University is a private institution; the cost of attendance can be expensive. Without her scholarship or a simple reduction in her scholarship, can jeopardize Young’s ability to stay in school.
Her biggest fear is having her scholarship reduced. If that were to happen, she would be force with the ultimatum of not coming back or working while also being a student athlete. A situation like this would create anxiety for Young because she would either have to limit her dedication to softball, jeopardizing the remainder of her athletic scholarship or juggle the constant need of all three, putting her in a position to fail academically.
Scholarships can determine how well some student athletes perform on the field. Those with low scholarships may not feel the need to commit all their time to being a student athlete because it’s barely helping them pay for school. For others, they see it as an opportunity to strive hard on the field in hopes of increasing their funds for next year. For student athletes, who receive a large sum of money, feels obligated to commit themselves fully to the sport. Without their athletic scholarship, school would have not even been an option for most.
In order for Young to maintain both scholarships, she must perform both in the classroom and on the field. She focuses mainly on keeping her GPA up, hoping that will ensure both athletic and academic scholarships for next year.
Not only is maintaining their scholarship a major concern for athletes but also developing a healthy relationship with their teammate, coaches, and professors play a critical role in their success. Student athletes are typically surrounded by the same teammates day and night for the year. Conflicts may arise between teammates or coaches and players.
In order to avoid conflict, Coach Pearson arranges team meetings, bonding activities, set goals, and have team rules and contracts for players to follow so there’s no confusion on what is expected. Before the season, Coach Pearson arranged a softball retreat for her players as a way to build team chemistry between them. They perform different tasks on the retreat requiring them to work together and communicate properly amongst themselves. Coach Pearson finds it extremely important to maintain these healthy relationships on and off the field.
A healthy relationship between your teammates is just as important to have as a healthy relationship with you and your coach or a professor. These key relationships can harm you significantly if not developed correctly. Wofford had to learn the hard way.
“Coach Pearson and I have this love/hate relationship. At times, we can be strategizing and laughing, but then, there are times where we will be going at it as well,” said Wofford.
Coach Pearson has threatened to kick Wofford off the team a number of times this year. At one point, the relationship between them was so severe; Wofford was benched during the first half of the season because of her attitude. Realizing her relationship with her Coach was harming her abilities to perform on the field, Wofford decided it was time for her and the coach to sit down and work out their differences.
Healthy relationship is essential to all aspects of life. Student athletes should make it a top priority to develop and maintain this kind of relationship amongst their teammates, coaches, and professors.
Athletic injuries can also affect an athlete mental health. Stimulating depression in student athletes, the injured athlete would become emotional because of their inability to play the sport they love. Young has suffered an injury during the fall season of softball. She was practicing her sliding technique with assistant Coach Jennifer Marshall on the tarp when she heard a bone in her ankle snapped. At first, she assumed it was a sprained and went to receive treatment from trainers. But after days of her ankle feeling uncomfortable, she went to Grady where she discovered her ankle was actually broken.
While being injured, Young felt like she was not apart of the team anymore. She was no longer able to practice with her teammates. She did not communicate much between her and her teammates or coaches. After returning from her injury, she lost her credibility as the official first base starter for the team. Coming from starting almost every game her freshman and sophomore year, to hardly playing any her junior year has added to Young’s depression.
Young said her broken ankle led to her being depressed because she was not on the field and had a hard time getting around. There was not much she could do with a broken ankle.
However, Young did not feel the need to go seek counseling for her depression. She believed it was not severe enough and could be handled on her own. Young has never sought counseling as a student athlete but feels mental health in student athletes is an important factor to health. The junior, psychology major believes if student athlete doesn’t manage their time well, they may result in a lot of mental health issues. She feels as if it’s the coaches’ responsibility to assist their athletes with time management, and have ways to prevent injuries such as strength and conditioning activities and healthier eating habits. When speaking of these concerns, Coach Pearson said the proper guidance for student athlete’s are there. Its up to them to decide whether or not they’re going to engage in them.
According to Coach Pearson, it is mandatory for all incoming freshmen, transfers, and students below a 3.0 GPA to attend study hall at least six hours a week. This will designate a time frame of at least six hours for students to get their work done or study. Whether they chose to be productive in study hall or not is out of her control. She also encourages her student athletes to join Fellowship of Christian Athletes where they worship and have bible study together. By joining this organization, students could seek counseling or relieve some of their anxiety issues through prayer and meditation.
Young and Wofford tried not to let their issues affect their performance on or off the field. Although at times when lines are blurred, the struggle to keep focus can be hard.
“When dealing with pressure, I get nervous and sometimes cannot perform well both academically and athletically,” said Young.
If the issues become too severe for either one of them to handle, they both said they would have no problem seeking counseling.
The NCAA provides an online handbook, “Managing Student-Athletes Mental Health,” expounding on the complications of mental health of college athletes while providing treatment plans and management skills to ensure they maintain their mental health. If you have any questions or concerns about a student athlete struggling to mange it all, please feel free to visit NCAA.org to seek important guidelines for dealing with this kind of issues.