Mental health and student-athletes: More than just the performance on the court


Annie Kim

Student-athletes’ mental health is one of the greatest struggles within both the high school and collegiate level. As many institutions turn a blind eye to this issue, athletes are demanding that there is a greater effort to combat this concern.

Olivia Mendoza

The glitz and glamour of being an athlete is something that so many young individuals around the world strive for. The crowds, medals, tournaments, and commitments to colleges just scratch the surface of what it means to be an athlete today. Every highlight that the public eye sees is nothing compared to what goes on behind the scenes. 

Countless practices, extra reps, workouts, double days, early mornings, and late nights really aren’t the issue here. It goes one level deeper than that. For sports, both at the collegiate level, and even amateur level, mental health is something that every student struggles with.

“From waking up at 5 am for practice to running at a hurried pace for 15+ minutes, I’d say cross country is the most mentally demanding sport,” senior XC and track athlete, Christopher Sydnor said. “I struggle often with running mentally which is what holds me back, I have great training yet during the races I struggle to push, giving me the result of not hitting my full potential yet.” 

Imagine dedicating your entire life to a sport: sacrificing parties, football games, and a countless amount of social events just to better yourself within the craft. And even with all of this dedication for however long you have been playing, you may not even reap the rewards of all your hard work.

“Over the summer I traded my free time for what was essentially boot camp. I put in more than 5 hours a day at the court so I could get as fast as possible,” senior tennis player Elliott Lee said. “Despite all the time I put into it, I never managed to get better as quickly as I needed to.”

The starting position you cherished so deeply is stripped away by one of your teammates, your best friend. And all you can do is stand on the sidelines and cheer, wishing that you were on that court.

Even if the roles are reversed, the pressure of having that coveted starting position on any team can be career ending. The chance of having that spot taken away from you at the drop of a hat fosters this toxic environment that turns teammate against teammate, and the love for the sport that you worked so hard for, may simply melt away. 

“There was actually a point where I was going to quit but then I learned to fall back in love with the fun of the sport rather than the stress and pressure of it all,” senior Victoria Villarreal, University of Nevada-Las Vegas commit said. 

Alone, students can only do so much when it comes to creating a positive culture within their sports. The need for a change within the system can only be cured with accurate amounts of care that each individual program brings to their teams. 

A study conducted by the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), polls student-athletes on whether or not they believe their athletic department supports mental health. Only 55% of male athletes, and 47% of females responded positively to this question. 

When further asking this same group if they believe their coaches acknowledge the mental health crisis on their own teams, only 50% of women and 59% of males responded positively. 

For student-athletes that are not as lucky to have the support that they need, some sadly have to walk away from the sport that they love. Because of the lack of resources that these athletes can turn to, it remains difficult for students to continue playing their sports  at the higher level. 

Only 15.6% of institutions have a full-time sports psychologist that can assist athletes with their mental obstacles, especially when attempting to aid them in their hurdles of juggling school, sports, and social life. While the awareness regarding mental health as increased over the past few years, there is still more work that has to be done within the realm of collegiate athletics. 

Luckily for the students as Ayala, coaches continue to provide an optimistic and supportive outlook for balancing both worlds of academics and athletics. 

“[My coaches] always said that the mind is connected to the body so keeping the mind strong will translate into your body,” Villarreal said.