Athletes Mental Health

When Simone Biles, considered the greatest gymnast of all time, dropped out of the 2020 Olympic Gymnastics competition due to a condition causing disorientation, also known as the “twisties,” it sparked a new conversation over the concerns for the mental well-being of athletes. Now, high schoolers are speaking up about their mental toughness as student-athletes.

“I think mental health is a big thing,” explains Madi Taylor, an Azurette. “I don’t think people think about it. People who have mental health issues put it off because they think it’s not important.”

To most athletes, succeeding, whether it be through personal improvement or winning a competition, is what they strive to accomplish each day. However, when the pressure builds, doubt takes the forefront, and fear sets in. Trying to dodge the fear only leads to greater panic. Phrases like, “What if I slip off the block?” or “What if I forget my routine?” begin to take a front seat during competition.

            That phrase, “what if,” haunts all athletes, and can lead them on a path of unrealistic expectations and false hopes. And it’s often manifested in nerves and pressure.

Rossmir Contreras

Battling the nerves and pressure to succeed as a student-athlete can be tough, and my own experiences as a competitive swimmer of ten years have been anything but perfect. The ‘what ifs’ spiraled my thoughts into a negative cycle that only added pressure to my already busy life. A big competition was coming up, and I was struggling mentally. I tried to act like everything was okay. In all actuality, I couldn’t handle the pressure, and I didn’t know how to respond.          

Other athletes express their views on combating the nerves. “When you go off nervousness, you don’t wrestle as well. You’re focused on what could happen, and not what you can do,” says Isaac Price, a senior wrestling captain. 

Kelsie Carter, a mountain biker, says that before a race, another athlete on her team “wouldn’t eat anything all day. He would make himself sick.”

            Not only do these athletes face challenges during competition, but also through the stresses of life as a student. “I think school and sports can be super stressful because you go to school all day, and then you go to practice. Then, you have to come home and do your homework. It’s like that every day,” explains Kara Noyce, a wrestler and soccer player.

            “I’ve had to cut back on my work hours. I can’t go riding during the week, except

during practices because I have to catch up on homework,” says Carter.

The pressure is there, and it’s real. Copper Hills athletes acknowledge that they don’t frequently talk about mental health in their sport. However, many of them agree that their sport is at least 50% mental. This begs the question, if mentality is such a big factor in sports, what should we be doing to support our athletes?

According to Jade Updike, a swimmer, the solution is simple. She says we should talk about mental health. “And I think we should have exercises to improve our mental health.” Talking about the issue brings it to the attention of athletes, parents, and coaches. It gives them a platform to address and combat potential mental health problems.

A few athletes share how they cope with the pressure best. “Sometimes I get really nervous, and I get tunnel vision. I have to tell myself to breathe. I do visualization by closing my eyes and thinking of something good. I also do some positive self-talk,” says Updike. When an athlete has a bad race or game, she also suggests to “have a positive, forward-thinking attitude, and realize that it was bad, but you still have more to prove.” 

Others say that listening to music, dancing, or running keeps the anxiety at bay. In fact, sports themselves can be an exit from pressure. “I enjoy sports, so that’s my outlet to stress. I can go out there, and I don’t have to think about everything that’s going on. I can just go out there and play the game,” explains Noyce.

Simply put, “if you put yourself mentally where there’s a block, you have to go back and find your way out,” says Price. Copper Hills student-athletes face challenges everyday, yet these athletes come to the battlefield prepared to face anything life throws at them. So, what do we do when they have hidden demons and need to find a way out? What if we use the ‘what ifs’ to their advantage? What if we help them succeed?

What if… the list goes on. When used for good, the “what ifs” turn the unbearable pressure into strength. And isn’t that what we want: to strengthen others, so they can make the impossible possible? As a student-athlete, I can say that a little encouragement and a listening heart can go a long way. It can turn a stressful situation into a successful situation.