Student athletes these days have a lot of responsibilities to juggle in order to excel in the classroom and on the field. In this age of 24/7 technology and seemingly never “turning off,” kids are constantly working to keep up with expectations and responsibilities. As a result, more kids are experiencing high levels of stress and left to feel overwhelmed when not having the coping tools needed to succeed.
Student athletes have both common stressors, as well as unique athletic stressors, to cope with on a daily basis. In my clinical experiences I commonly hear student athletes report the following stressors unique to their athletic experiences:
- Playing time. This is probably the #1 concern most kids have, especially as they near the ends of their high school careers and hope to be noticed by colleges in order to earn a future athletic scholarship.
- College selection. While only a select few student athletes will earn “full-rides,” many others will have chances to compete at the D-II and III levels. Figuring out the steps after high school ends can be a daunting task, and especially stressful when trying to decide the best athletic fit.
- Multi-tasking school, sports, and other activities and responsibilities. Studying for classes can be a full-time job by itself, but when you add in practices, camps, clinics, showcases, and various other sport-related endeavors it can become exhausting to keep up. Add to this list the number of activities and other responsibilities kids have and you can see where they often feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day.
- Working with the coach. Kids sometimes clash with coaches over team climate, the coach’s philosophies, playing time, and how the kid is being used on the field. In some instances kids communicate their concerns with the coach, but in many other situations they feel intimidated to speak up and end up internalizing their stress as a result.
- Pressures to specialize in one sport. Some coaches directly suggest kids specialize in one sport, while others imply that they do so. In either case, giving up other sports to focus on one can lead to greater risk for sports burnout, as well as increased risk for injury.
- Injury recovery. When student athletes experience injury and are forced to miss time on the field, it can be especially stressful not being around the team and possibly losing a starting position as a result of the injury.
- Pressures around sport training and choices. Kids today can get lost on the internet reading about various diet supplements, energy drinks, and muscle boosters designed to help them get the most from their training. Some kids feel if they don’t keep up with the latest trends that they will fall behind the competition, creating more stress in making these decisions.
Adding to the list of unique sport stressors are the common stressors that most kids experience, including issues at home, relationships, grades, and preparing for a future career.
How to help
Creating a school climate that both normalizes student athlete stress as well as offers counseling/mentoring solutions is a big first step. Do you speak to your kids about the stress they experience, and show empathy toward those who struggle juggling all of their responsibilities? Does your school have counseling resources available to offer help, or coaches and other mentors kids can talk to if counseling support is not available?
When kids feel as though their struggles are normal, and that help is available (without stigmas), they are less likely to turn to maladaptive, unhealthy, and/or dangerous means of dealing with their stress. Of course, in situations where you feel professional help is needed be sure to help reference to trustworthy counselors in your community.
Being a student athlete today feels like a full-time job for some kids, making it that much more important that we recognize their stressors and lend help when needed. Do your part by being observant, proactive, and supportive whenever you see one of your kids struggling with the challenges of being a student athlete today.
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