Ward and other athletes discuss mental health
Jaylen Carr – Sports Editor
Tabby Palomba – Contributor
John Pisano – Contributor
Alex Ward, a senior football player, goes onto the field every week during the season, attends football practice, then has the pressure to perform well off the field to maintain his scholarship. Then, this past fall, he faced a debilitating season-ending injury.
“During my injury my mindset was terrible,” Ward said. “I felt I was a failure; I felt I could not do anything right and couldn’t speak to someone.”
Ward ruptured his patellar tendon during practice on Aug. 26, 2022. Ward hopes to return to the field for the fall 2023 season. He did not want to have his coaches thinking he was unable to handle this injury plus the schoolwork and the regularly scheduled programs for football.
There has been increase attention on athlete mental health nationally and here on campus.
Some student athletes are able to have conversations about their mental health according to a 2020 NCAA student-athlete well-being study . Sixty-nine percent of female athletes and 63% of male athletes agreed or strongly agreed that they know where to go on campus if they have mental health concerns. The data has been tracked since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when society was made aware of how mental health was affecting a lot of people, especially athletes.
Due to the pandemic, it helped to bring awareness for the student athletes to seek resources when facing mental health challenges. The university is also making strides in helping student athletes handle any mental obstacles.
Associate Director of Athletics Communications Ken Sweeten said the athletic department is currently working on building a program and resources for student athletes at Southern to help cope with any mental health challenges. Sweeten said the athletic department is looking to add a resource this fall.
Student athletes not only have the pressure to perform in the classroom, but they also must find time to get schoolwork completed.
Ward was injured in the fall 2022, but he was still held to that expectation to follow the schedule just as his fellow teammates.
Ward said during his season his day starts at 4:30 a.m. The team has weightlifting at 5 a.m., team breakfast at 7 a.m., time for their scheduled classes, film at 1 p.m., more time for classes, then have a team dinner and start practice at 5 p.m.
By the time he gets back into his dorm, he has about five hours to get homework done and to get to sleep before his day starts at 4:30 a.m. again.
Payton Reis, a senior volleyball player, states that she has a similar athletic schedule as Ward, with her day starting at 6 a.m. and ending at 10 p.m.
“I do not have time to do anything extra and if I do decide I want to go out, I must go out with my friends at 11 at night due to my practice ending late. This puts a toll on my mental freedom,” said Reis.
Reis said it is challenging to find enough time to get schoolwork done because of her busy schedule.
“Don’t get me wrong, being an athlete, I still get the same amount of homework just as everyone else,” Reis said.
William Lunn, a health and movement science professor once had a student athlete come to him for support on how to handle stress and being overwhelming. Lunn suggested to the student that it is a good thing to seek help.
Lunn noted that he teaches about student athletes dealing with mental health in his class and he even talks to student athletes that are in his class individually on how they can balance academics and the sport they are in.
“If you look at a student or a professional athlete, they have their own set of responsibilities and stressors,” said Lunn. “There’s a lot piled on top of them.”
Coaches, family––even the university––all put immense pressure on student athletes to perform at high level every game, said Lunn.
Lunn said: “These conversations cannot stigmatize. Have the conservations in a comfortable setting so it can be addressed.”
The university has resources to help all students, including student athletes, cope with mental health.
SCSU offers free confidential counseling services for students and student-athletes who want to address their mental health.
The Counseling Services are part of the Wellbeing Center, located in Schwartz Hall, room 100.
For students who are on the fence about seeking help, the confidentiality of the counseling services can offer them some peace of mind.
“We can’t confirm or deny if someone is receiving treatment,” said Nick Pinkerton, associate dean of counseling services and wellbeing. “There’s no information put on your academic record.”
The counseling services offer individual one-on-one meetings with counselors, but they also offer group therapy and workshops.
“As powerful as individual therapy is, group therapy is truly amazing,” said Pinkerton. “I think students who participate in that experience realize that you’re not alone in what you’re dealing with.”
The Counseling Services also emphasize why mental health is so important for people, specifically college students.
Matthew Rothbard, health, and movement science professor said it is a positive sign to seek help when going through hardships in life.
“There is a great slogan that is getting a lot of traction right now that says, ‘it’s okay to not be okay,’” Rothbard said. “It’s okay to get help; you need help, you get help.”
Sometimes athletes fear that if they seek help, they look mentally weak, said Lunn. But based on the current environment in society, speaking about mental health is viewed as a sign of strength and courage.
Adjunct psychology professor Shenira Billups said that student athletes feel pressure to succeed on and off the field.
Billups said: “There is a difference when you are playing athletics and then going to school for it. Some of these students are on scholarships or trying to make a name for themselves.”
Finding balance and structure is vital for student athletes, Billups said. They have so much on their schedule, which makes it hard for them to have time for themselves.
“Just because they’re an athlete it doesn’t mean that they are great at everything,” said Lunn. “They’re people too.”
Students who wish to schedule an appointment can find more information on the Counseling Service’s website.
The staff at the counseling center encourages students to come and address their mental health and said they look forward to working with students.
“I really enjoy this developmental period in young people’s lives,” said Pinkerton. “They are trying to figure out who they are; it is a tremendous time of independence and responsibility. I find it to be a really rewarding thing to be doing with my life.”
While the athletic department and counseling services are working towards building a program for student athletes to receive mental health help, athletes such as Ward are responsible for addressing their mental health concerns on their own.
“Even though I felt my life was crashing down from such a risky injury, I was able to pull myself out of that slump and get back on track,” Ward said. “I am finally able to say I will be fully recovered for the next football season.”