The Serious Struggles of Student Athletes
By A.J. Scapoli
For the last four years of Kyra’s life the same cycle has repeated itself over and over again. Kyra has been a three-sport athlete every year of high school while managing AP and Honors level classes, personal hobbies, a large social life, and a very consistent babysitting gig. The life of a student athlete is not easy, especially not for this one. On most days, Kyra's schedule consists of a seven-hour school-day, followed by two to four hours of which sport she is playing, then coming home to eat dinner, shower up, and a whopping four hours of AP and Honors classes homework. There is no wonder why four in ten American teens drink coffee regularly (National Coffee Association); they have jam-packed schedules and don't get enough sleep.
Many school teachers do not take into consideration other work that students have going on in their lives before assigning a boat load of homework. After talking to many students in the junior class, I learned that the average time that students fall asleep after their extracurricular activities and homework is 12:30 a.m. According to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, “The average amount of sleep that teenagers get is between 7 and 7 ¼ hours. However, they need between 9 and 9 ½ hours (studies show that most teenagers need exactly 9 ¼ hours of sleep)." With teens going to bed so late and waking up early in the morning for school, these students are thrown into limbo leaving only the weekends for them to get enough sleep. Unfortunately for student athletes, most Saturdays start off with an early morning practice leaving only Sunday to sleep in.
High school is difficult enough as it is without the school work. The pressures of being cool, looking attractive, and engaging in your first real personal relationships are extremely confusing and stressful. A White Plains High School freshman stated that she wakes up at 5:50 in the morning to get her makeup, hair, and outfit perfect. Now throw the pressure of playing a sport into that mix. For many student athletes, there is a lot of pressure on doing well and having bad games can completely turn students off to any other activities, including school work. In the article “Why are So Many Teen Athletes Struggling with Depression” by The Atlantic, a teenage girl whose life was based around lacrosse had her world flipped upside-down when she was sidelined due to an injury. Like so many other student athletes, this girl has her identity tied to the sport she plays. Student athletes lives revolve around their sport and for many, gives their life meaning.
Watching a close friend go through this entire process has shown me the epitome of stress. Being a student athlete in your junior year is perhaps the most stressful. Another junior athlete at White Plains High School has been balancing varsity tennis, a babysitting job, ACT preparation courses, and school work including three AP and honors courses. In conversations with her and people around her, I learned that is placed under an immense amount of stress which leads to frequent mental breakdowns, signs of anorexia, and constant mood changes. She is not the only teenage athlete who has shown signs of an eating disorder though, according to the National Eating Disorders Association, “Among female high school athletes in aesthetic sports, 42% of athletes reported disordered eating, and they were 8 times more likely to incur injury than athletes who did not report disordered eating." The overwhelming stress placed on these high school athletes is forcing these teenagers to find ways to cope in unhealthy ways, magnifying every difficulty in their lives.
Many people realize the toll that sports place on one's body, but not on their minds. When in reality, athletes suffer from mental illness just like many other people. Brian Hainline, the NCAA Chief Medical Officer stated, “Student athletes, they look fit so, basically, they must be healthy and they must be immune to things like depressive thoughts and suicidal thoughts." The stigma that athletes are some kind of supernatural creatures who feel no emotions or pain and sadness needs to stop. “At times, student athletes are idolized and worshiped as heroes, so of course there can’t be something dark and dire inside of them” said Hainline. According to Atyourownrisk.org, “1 in 3 adolescents (31.9 %) met the criteria for anxiety disorder.” Clearly, mental illness affects a large portion of adolescents and it does not discriminate based on race, gender, or athletes.
Today Kyra is still a three-sport athlete but not for long. When she graduates and goes to college, she has no dreams of putting herself through these struggles all over again. After missing 35+ days of school during her junior year, she cannot enjoy the sports that she has loved for so long with the college workload ahead. The struggles that student athletes face are of a wide variety and just as real as struggles that any other student faces. Clearly, it is time to start the conversation that these teenage athletes are not unbreakable superheroes, but regular every students.
A.J. Scapoli is one of the co-captains of the WPHS Varsity Baseball Team and a student in Ms. LoScalzo's journalism class.