In the summer of 2018, I went through a hard breakup, was dealing with the loss of a family friend, and decided to transfer universities.
As a soccer player, transferring schools meant that I’d also have to join a new team and meet new coaches. When I showed up to our first day of fitness testing, I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t just nervous, I was overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. I felt like I’d never run before.
Afterward, I met with my coach who had sensed something was wrong. I broke down and told her how difficult my summer had been. She helped me realize that my performance on the field was being hindered by my negative emotions and my refusal to talk about them.
“my performance on the field was being hindered by my negative emotions and my refusal to talk about them.”
Throughout that summer, many people offered their time to talk but I refused because I believed I would be burdening them with my problems. I learned that this was not the best way to approach my mental health.
Hiding my emotions from others caused me to hide them from myself. Through self-reflection and familial conversations, I quickly realized the importance of opening up and being vulnerable to my mental and physical health.
After my experience, I began noticing similar struggles in my peers.
Between 10 and 15% of student-athletes will experience severe psychological issues, 2% more than their nonathletic counterparts.
Given the immense pressures put on student-athletes, these numbers make sense. Along with the common changes that all students face, they are now on a new team, have new coaches, and the hours required for their sport are more demanding than ever.
Unfortunately, in sports, there is a culture of hiding mental health problems. Athletes find it hard to seek help for a couple of reasons:
1. The Availability of Resources
Athletic departments at any university take time to give physicals, concussion baseline tests and make sure throughout the season that grades are acceptable, but there is not check-in on how students are doing mentally and emotionally.
Most athletic departments also lack on-site psychologists so if athletes do express issues, they are sent to the campus counseling center. Although this is a start, most counselors do not specialize in athlete mental health.
Sports psychologists are specific to this population and can help with specific student-athlete issues like sports anxiety and hindered performance from other mental health struggles.
2. The Fear of Judgment and Different Treatment From Coaches and Teammates
The last thing an athlete wants is to be thought of or treated differently. Seeking mental health counseling brings about the fear of other people finding out you’re not mentally “tough.” For many struggling athletes, they would rather suffer than show weakness.
How can we improve these conditions to help the performance and mental health of these individuals?
Athletic departments need to devote resources to individual care and raising mental health awareness to reduce the stigma.
To get there, let’s start being active in our school athletics department to bring awareness to this issue. We have the ability to voice our struggles and our triumphs and to help make a change.
We can still be strong even if we’re not perfectly okay.
Written By: Jordan Chawan
Jordan is a senior at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee studying psychology.
In her free time, you can find her at soccer practice, hiking, cooking or spending time with friends and family.