Pressure damages athletes’ mental health

Three high-profile college student-athletes have died by suicide across the United States since March. They include Katie Meyer, the star goalkeeper of the Stanford soccer team, Sarah Shulze, a top runner at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Lauren Bernett, an exceptionally talented softball player from James Madison University. These heart wrenching deaths are beginning to shine a light on mental health struggles among high school and collegiate student athletes, and many more people are stepping up and expressing their struggles.

Student athletes have an immense amount of pressure on them to balance their schoolwork, rigorous training schedule, sleep, social life, and simply time for themselves. There is also the risk of injury and possible low self-esteem if the student athlete does not feel good enough for the coach or team. 

“Student athletes on campuses are hit with more pressure to perform and excel,” said Josie Nicholson, a sports psychologist and counselor at the University of Mississippi. “They live such hectic schedules with so many expectations. … There’s not really much time to stop and process anything.” 

These young athletes’ lives can often be extremely stressful and overwhelming. People need to not forget that these are people before athletes or students, and young ones at that. 

Especially when growing up playing a sport and just completely immersing yourself in that sport and in that lifestyle for such a long period of time, it can be hard for these teenagers to view themselves as anything but athletes. At this age, where these kids are student athletes, they are still growing up and trying to figure out their identity. When they’ve grown up with their sport being their main identification of themselves, as they get older it’s hard to separate the human from the athlete. If they are a runner or a soccer player, for example, it can be hard for these young adults to realize that they are anything other than a runner or player. This can be extremely hard on a person’s mental health to base their identity entirely on their performance in their sport, or when they get injured or have to quit.

“Perfectionism can come out with a particular tenacity for student athletes. The demands are high, and then if you’re trying to meet those demands perfectly, or perform perfectly in all those areas, that can be a really problematic recipe,” said Tommy Fritze, a sport and performance psychologist at the health and counseling center at the University of Denver said.

Victoria Emma, professional tennis player, spoke on the stigma surrounding high-profile athletes reaching out for help and taking a step back when needed: “It’s a fear about being judged. It’s a fear of being seen as weak when you’re supposed to be seen as a competitive athlete.” 

Truly helping a student-athlete would require support from not only their parents and family, but support and reassurance from their coaches and teammates as well. These athletes mainly just need to know that they are heard and have resources provided to them if they are struggling and choose to get help. 

11 thoughts on “Pressure damages athletes’ mental health

  • May 23, 2022 at 11:10 am
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    Being a student athlete is very difficult. With so much going on its hard to manage everything at once. I also feel like coaches should be more aware of the mental health of athletes. They should let athletes know its okay to take a break sometimes. I’m glad we are bringing more attention to this topic.

  • May 23, 2022 at 9:35 am
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    I’m glad this is a topic being covered. Everyone should be aware of what mental health is and what it can do to a person if not treated properly. It is a devastating thing if it progresses and it turns bad.

  • May 23, 2022 at 9:28 am
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    I also enjoyed the story about athletes’ mental health because I’ve been in many issues where sports have drastically affected my mental health. And it’s scary to see that some athletes can’t take the stress or can’t cope with the mental health they have to cause them death. I also think it would be a good idea to have resources for athletes and have sympathy.

  • May 19, 2022 at 10:03 pm
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    It is horrible how these pressures are becoming too much for such successful students for them to feel like they can’t do it anymore. Athletes should have a balance and coaches can also help by how they train their athletes and to remind them that it is ok to take a break sometimes and prioritize their mental health always.

  • May 19, 2022 at 1:46 pm
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    More and more I see mental health comes up in news stories – It should be treated with just the same urgency and importance as physical health. Some in the older generations don’t understand, but in reality, it’s just the same.

  • May 19, 2022 at 9:35 am
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    This is an important topic to talk about. I personally relate to what Victoria Emma said, “It’s a fear about being judged. It’s a fear of being seen as weak when you’re supposed to be seen as a competitive athlete.”

  • May 18, 2022 at 10:40 pm
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    Sports help you manage stress. Mental health is a big thing in sports and not talked about at all. I’m glad people are realizing that sports and mental health go together.

  • May 18, 2022 at 10:35 pm
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    I appreciate this insightful take. I have seen friends and peers fall into and become their sport, easily loosing sense of all other aspects of life and personal identity. I agree that as a growing child/teen, it is difficult to find out who you truly are outside of the athlete you are.

  • May 17, 2022 at 2:25 pm
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    Teens, especially teen athletes, face lots of pressure and no one ever bats an eye. It’s good that we’re bringing attention to it.

  • May 17, 2022 at 11:02 am
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    This is an important topic to talk about and im glad attention is being directed toward it.

  • May 16, 2022 at 8:51 pm
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    It is just as important for athletes and their coaches to prioritize mental health as well as physical health. In order to perform their best on the field, and in life, mental health needs to be taken seriously and not be overlooked.

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