Pressures of Being a Student Athlete

Games Over, Next…


Julia McRae, Staff Writer

A student-athlete gets home from a long day of school, only to realize that they have a two-hour practice and a lot of homework that they still have to complete. They are exhausted and feel their mental health crumbling as they prepare for their day’s second half. 

Many student-athletes worldwide face challenging obstacles because of their commitment to sports and academics. According to the Online Master of Athletic Administration at Ohio University, “injuries, emotional stress, and physical strain can put student-athletes at risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts than their non-athletic peers.” Therefore explaining that there’s a concern over the pressure put on student-athletes and their mental health.

Student-athletes are not only expected to perform at their best in the sports they play but also to excel in school. This is because coaches and parents push student-athletes to have good grades if they want to earn an athletic scholarship for college. 

“You could spend your whole night in a gym for a game and you don’t get to study for a test the next day,” Sophomore Kaitlyn Sidlo explained. Sidlo, who plays volleyball and basketball, values academics and athletics and is responsible for many different tasks. Anxiety, sleep, home stress, school stress, and physical stress are all key factors in most student-athletes’ mental health.

How serious are the effects of sports on young adults? In 2019, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) spoke on the topic of mental health issues in student-athletes, “an estimated 31.9 percent of adolescents have some form of an anxiety disorder.” That means about 3 out of every 10 student-athletes interviewed report experiencing worry, fear, and physical strain at some point in their lives. 

Sleep also plays an important part in an individual’s willingness to learn and perform well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “children and adolescents who do not get enough sleep have a higher risk for many health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries.” For a student-athlete, the long days of school and athletics become a blur because there isn’t a real end to an athlete’s day. After school, there are usually games and practices. Sidlo explained that “You have to find time to eat, you have to play, and then go home and go to bed.”  

Freshman Sam Lange, participating in tennis, basketball, and soccer, speaks up about what teachers can do to alleviate some of the stress on student-athletes. Lange explained it would be more beneficial if teachers implemented “small extensions on when things are due or less homework being given to do outside of school.”

According to Health News, “In 2013, research conducted at Stanford University found that students in high-achieving communities who spend too much time on homework experience more stress, physical health problems, a lack of balance in their lives, and alienation from society.” So giving student-athletes more flexibility on schoolwork could play an essential part in reducing the stress levels of athletes. The idea of giving athletes more time to finish assignments can play a role in altering the mental and physical aspects of a student’s life. Stress can be severe and lead to more significant problems, like anxiety and depression. If teachers gave student-athletes more leniency with homework and assignments, this could alleviate some of the pressure on these individuals. 

Due to the consistency of practices and games, student-athletes get little time to spend with their family. Senior Meghan Schultz, partaking in volleyball, basketball, and track, justified her feelings about the topic. “You don’t get a lot of time to spend with your family during the school week,” Schultz said, “the pressures of school and being a student-athlete add up over time.” 

Nonetheless, athletes are constantly being pressured to perform to the best of their ability all the time. This can cause mental stress and physical stress. These individuals struggle with constant pressures which can, in the long run, lead to bigger issues like injuries. According to Baptist Health South Florida, “About half of all sports injuries in young athletes are from overuse.” This is because athletes are taught throughout their childhood to work through their pain, but has it ever occurred to them that taking a day off of sports and resting is a better solution? No, athletes around the world are instructed to have the mentality to push past their limits, even when it is not safe to do so. Society should inform athletes more often that rest is important and that the way they play doesn’t define their self-worth. 

However, injuries can also give an athlete exposure to life without sports. Life without sports may open up a stress-free world for athletes where they are characterized by more than just how well they perform in their sport. A former American football player from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Troy Polamalu, explained that “injury, in general, teaches you to appreciate every moment. I’ve had my share of injuries throughout my career. It’s humbling. It gives you perspective. No matter how many times I’ve been hurt, I’ve learned from that injury and come back even more humble.”

Overall, lack of time and sleep can play an exhausting role in the mental health of student-athletes. Supporting and enlightening athletes that their self-worth isn’t determined by their athletic performance would relieve stress and open opportunities to live a healthier, happier, and more balanced life.