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Game On or Stress On? The Impact of Sports on Student Athletes’ Mental Well-being

By Anushka Mallya

Sports can be a thrilling and rewarding experience for student athletes, but it's important to understand that they can also come with their fair share of stress. From balancing extreme training schedules to managing academic responsibilities, the pressure can sometimes feel overwhelming. There are many ways to reduce this stress.

Although sports usually impact athletes positively, as they are seen as an outlet to release pent-up stress stored throughout the week, there are many negative aspects to consider. Some students tend to have increased stress due to the pressure of the competitive nature of sports, leading to anxiety or burnout. In addition, injuries often occur during sports activities which have both physical and physiological consequences. An article published by GradGuard states, “They can also negatively impact your mental health if you’re focused so much on the competition that it becomes an obsession.” These obsessions can make athletes overthink their game and beat themselves up for not winning for their team.

I believe one cause for this anxiety is making people proud. Most teens yearn to make their parents proud and will do anything and everything for their parents' attention. Winning the game with their impressive skills is just one of many things that athletes strive to do. Not achieving this could build stress and form unrealistic expectations for future games. Having overly hyped expectations can make a win feel like a loss, and make players overthink their sports skills. This is just one of many examples of why an athlete might be feeling stress and anxiety from sports.

One other possible reason I believe may be causing stress for student athletes is schoolwork. Schoolwork and homework are stressful enough, even for those who don’t play any sports. The thought that student athletes have to play their sport as well as keep their grades up is an overwhelming feeling in itself. Studies from the National Institute of Health state that sports fatigue can come on suddenly or after strict periods of exercise. This, mixed with no motivation, can lead to a decline in mental health and an increase in anxiety.

There are many different solutions to help this anxiety. According to Trine University, “Coaches and athletic administrators must invest in their athletes’ mental health just as much as they invest in their physical well-being” Sports anxiety is something that needs to be recognized. If school communities brought more awareness to it, it would be less frequent, and people would be more educated on the topic.

As someone who experiences sports related anxiety, there are many things I have tried to conquer it, and here’s what worked. First, if you know you’re going to stay at practice till late, have a talk with your teacher and request extensions when necessary. This can help a lot, since it’s one less thing to worry about. Second, have a chat with your coach. If you have a test coming up, or tons of homework, check with your coach and ask if you’re able to miss a practice or two. And last, take a few moments to breathe, stretch out your muscles and most important, drink enough water. As a young athlete who shows up to two different sports practices almost every day, it is super important that I stay hydrated so I can replace all the fluids that I lose. Stretching helps with all the muscle tightness, soothing soreness, and breathing calms your heart rate and makes you feel less anxious. These three tips have brought me a long way and have shaped me to be a better athlete.

Finally, if you are feeling very stressed and overwhelmed, it’s important to reach out to a guidance counselor, teacher, coach, or other adult in your life for help.

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