Stress on college-athletes

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Sophomore Cristiana Behnken leaving for class early in the morning before soccer practice later

The general thought of college-athletes having it all: school paid for, free gear, and keeping away from the freshmen 15 isn’t always the life these young adults endure. Although some enjoy the fun things college brings to those who attend such as: leaving home, meeting new people and learning about topics that interest them, the stress that one experiences as a student-athlete is much different and more intense than those that are not student-athletes.

As many regular college students endure stress relating to school, jobs, relationships and many other factors, the NCAA says, “While it’s not clear whether the source of challenges to student-athlete mental well-being is the same as those non-athletes face, collegiate athletes are known to encounter unique stressors that the general population doesn’t have to deal with, such as time demands, relationships with coaches, and missed scheduled classes.”

Ryan Larkin, an athletic trainer for the Women’s Soccer and Men’s Tennis team at the University of Denver, hears about these stresses on a regular basis. Whether the stress is physical or mental, Larkin says that most athletes stress can lead to anxiety or even depression. “The mentality to overcome physical stress leads to other stresses, whether it is pressure to perform in the classroom or on the playing field, athlete’s definitely  have to deal and cope with a lot.” Although Larkin explained that most athletes go through this, she also clarified that athlete’s on teams with national rankings such as DU’s newly National Champion Hockey team or the 2015 NCAA Lacrosse Champions, “The pressure to perform under those circumstances can influence mental health of those student athletes.”

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Student-athletes usually sit together during class time

Pressure to perform on the field as well as the classroom are just a few stress factors of a student-athlete’s everyday life. Adding the weight room and conditioning practices to their schedules can either relieve or create stress says Gary Boros, the Assistant Sports Performance Coach at DU. “In here, (weight room) we as coaches understand that our kids are students first and athletes second. We take in all of the things out of our control like their relationships, school work, jobs, and we try to create a stress management environment.” While Boros aims to build a place for athletes to relieve stress, he contends that even the work he puts them through could eventually create stress in itself. “We understand that not everyone likes to run or to lift weights, but we have to push our athletes out of their comfort zones and make them do things they are uncomfortable with. This alone can force other stresses on top of whatever they already have going on. Not to mention stress of traveling to and from games in different time zones and competing against a different opponent almost every weekend.”

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Dining halls are easy and accessible for college-athlete’s diets and meal plans

Not only does the factors of practices and games schedules create stress for college athletes, but so does everything that goes into preparing for them. Cristiana Behnken, studying mechanical-engineering while also on the soccer team says that the lack of sleep creates the most stress for her. “Getting a full night of sleep, getting grades to keep me eligible and nutrition are the hardest things to do when you’re studying mechanical-engineering.” Behnken also mentioned that if her major wasn’t so complex, that she might be able to cope with stress better. “I either put things off or just don’t do them because it stresses me out so much. If I were a communications major, I would probably be well rested, healthy, and have awesome grades.”

Athletes also talk of a pressure and expectation of maintaining a social life. Aside from being a student-athlete, they are also college students who want to engage in the total “college experience.” Heather Turcios who is also a soccer player at DU says that being a freshmen living in Centennial Halls can be hard. “When people go out on Wednesday’s or on a day where we might not be able to because of practice or games the next day is stressful.” According to a survey the NCAA conducted in 2014, 44% of male athletes and 33% of female athletes said that they had drank excessively in the past 12 months. “It’s nice to be social and try to live the college experience,” says Turcios, “But it’s definitely a way to deal with stress and probably not the best.”

In terms of coping with stress, Larkin suggests to talk to someone about it. “Whether it’s a friend, trainer, coach, or sports psychologist, getting out what you’re feeling is the most beneficial way to deal with stress as an athlete.”

One Response to Stress on college-athletes

  • Stephanie Carr says:

    Leah I really enjoyed reading your story. I love that you wrote about the stress that college athletes experience throughout college. I really like how you were able to interview athletic trainers, and coaches who understand that being a student athlete is very stressful. Great story!

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