Student-athletes comprise one of the most unique populations on campus. In addition to managing rigorous coursework and other academic commitments, much of their remaining time is spent fulfilling athletic requirements.
Research published from the NCAA has indicated that student-athletes may be more reluctant to seek mental health treatment for assistance in dealing with the pressure related to their dual status. This hesitation has been attributed to the culture of athletics that emphasizes being “mentally tough,” “showing no signs of weakness,” and “fighting through the pain.”
While this mindset may work in athletic competition, it can be harmful to your mental health. The unique responsibilities expected of student-athletes can create difficulties if not managed. Review the information below for useful tips on how to manage your life as a student-athlete
Tips for Student-Athletes
Your job is to be a student-athlete. Practice, class, film, weights, eat, study hall...Wait a minute, I don't have any "me time." How am I supposed to check Facebook, do my laundry, call my mom, and play Xbox? Treat your responsibilities as if they were your full-time job because they are.
Get organized. First, when it comes to school work, know what is expected and when it’s due; keep a calendar or diary noting critical due dates for assigned homework. Jot down practice and game schedules as well so you’ll know ahead of time when you’ll be busy. A daily scheduling calendar with the days broken down into one-hour increments is a great tool for organizing your day and keeping track of what lies ahead. Who knows, you may even have 15 minutes at the end of the day for a quick game of Halo...
Be proactive. Prioritize school assignments based on due dates and the time needed to complete the work. Examine your calendar for free time and make notes in the open time slots detailing which assignment you’ll use that time to work on. Determine beforehand any resources you’ll need to complete your work (books, materials, partner participation) and make arrangements ahead of time to ensure you are prepared. Most importantly, keep your commitment to yourself and spend the allotted time working on the project you promised yourself you’d be doing. An hour wasted is one you can never get back!
Learn to communicate. Despite your best efforts, there might be times when you get behind. If you see problems on the horizon, this is the time to talk to your teachers, academic counselor, parents, and coaches about how to address it. More often than not, teachers will work with you if you tell them ahead of time that you’ve got conflicts that might prevent you from completing an assignment on time. If you wait until the due date to inform anyone, it is rare a professor will cut you any slack! Coaches and academic counselors can be a great resource in helping you work with your teachers to ensure you stay on track.
Commit to your studies. In the descriptor “student-athlete”, note that it is “student” that comes first. Participating in school sports is a privilege stemming solely from your status as a student. On the other hand, meeting your academic requirements is a solemn obligation that you have to your parents, teachers, coaches and, most importantly, yourself. Plain and simple, academics must come first and should take priority in your goal setting and time management strategies. Good coaches with your best long-term interests at heart will affirm this and will help you to achieve your goals both on and off the field. While your studies should always take priority over sports, we believe that with effort and commitment a dedicated student-athlete can excel in both! Read "The Whiz Kids Of UH Baseball", an article about successful UH student-athletes.
Make the most of failure. Many college freshmen—especially student-athletes who have the twin demands of challenging athletic competition and heightened academic expectations—experience some kind of difficulty in their first semester. For some, it's a low grade on an exam or paper; for others, it's just feeling lost or overwhelmed in their new surroundings. Resist the temptation to give up. Make a realistic assessment of where you went wrong: Did you spend enough time studying? Did you ask questions in class? Did you visit the professor during office hours for extra help? Then take the steps necessary to correct the problem, right away.
Value Plan B. Every college student has dreams. For the ones who are athletes, those dreams usually include competing professionally. That's Plan A, and there's nothing wrong with it. The reality, however, is that fewer than 5 percent of all college athletes compete professionally after graduation. This means that you need to make a Plan B for what happens if your athletic career ends after the college-level competition. This does not mean you must drop athletic pursuits altogether; it just means you should pay enough attention to the student part of your student-athlete status to be ready for whatever opportunities life presents you after college.
*Adapted from The Protein People, 2011 & Heather Ryan, Director of Athletic Support at Duke University
How can I help a teammate?
Teammates often turn to their own peers for support. If a teammate has come to you, consider it a sign of trust and strength. Many people are unsure of how to respond. Here is a list of helpful pointers when considering how best to help a teammate:
- Stop what you are doing, look at the person, and simply listen.
- Listen and accept what you are given. Ask questions for clarification without judging. One of the biggest mistakes someone can make is to respond as if the problem is a sign of weakness or unimportant or trivial.
- When it appears the person has finished talking, ask if there is anything else he/she needs to say. Sometimes listening is enough.
- Indicate you are glad he/she came to you and you want to help. Don't assume, but clarify what help the person may want.
- Make the necessary referral and provide encouragement and support. Consulting with a CAPS or other mental health professional is an excellent way to feel confident in your support.
- Know your limits. Be aware of what help is reasonable to expect from you. If you do not feel as though you can provide the help your teammate needs, know your resources. If unsure, contact CAPS to map out a course of action.
*Adapted from NCAA: "Managing Student-Athletes' Mental Health Issues"
I’m a coach, how can I help?
Coaches are often in an ideal place to recognize when one of their student-athletes are experiences difficulties. You spend so much quality time with them and maybe viewed as a confidant and mentor. It is important to notice when a student-athlete may need assistance, and even more important to aid them in finding that assistance. A recent survey of NCAA coaches reported that 72% of them had a positive experience with campus mental health care resources. Many report mental health care can both improve athletic performance, and help student-athletes reach their full personal potential.
How can you help?
- Maintain that extraordinary relationship you have with your student-athlete.
- Help reduce the stigma of mental health by talking about it and normalizing the need to take care of our minds.
- Call CAPS for a consultation to identify how a student-athlete could utilize service on or off-campus.
- Make sure your incoming student-athletes are aware of the resources offered at CAPS.
- Pay attention to anything that seems out of the ordinary for one of your student-athletes (i.e. poor concentration, mood swings, irritability, lack of motivations, fatigue, weakness, serious injuries) and contact an appropriate person immediately.