Sports betting has become increasingly prevalent in today’s world, captivating millions of people who engage in gambling or actively participate in sports wagering on various platforms. While sports betting can be seen as a harmless pastime for some, its implications on student athletes' mental health are often overlooked. We are writing a two part series blog post with contributions from NCAA staff and ExTA, diving into the potential risks sports betting poses to student athlete well being and the ethics of college athletics. We are starting with the potential impact of sports betting on student athlete mental health, shedding light on the challenges they may face and then will tackle the importance of addressing this unacknowledged issue.
Part 1 - The impact:
1. Increased Pressure and Performance Anxiety: The rise of sports betting introduces an additional layer of pressure on student athletes. When individuals place bets on games or matches, the stakes become higher, and the performance of athletes is scrutinized even more. This heightened pressure can lead to increased anxiety, stress, and performance-related issues, as athletes may feel the weight of expectations from both their team and bettors.
2. Distraction from Focus and Team Dynamics: Sports betting can distract student athletes from their primary focus: training, skill development, and team dynamics. Instead of dedicating their time and energy to improving their craft, athletes may find themselves preoccupied with the potential outcomes of games and the associated financial implications. This distraction can harm their ability to fully engage in team activities, negatively impacting team dynamics, cohesion and overall team production.
3. Financial Consequences and Incentives: For some student athletes, the allure of quick financial gains through sports betting can be tempting. However, the unpredictable nature of gambling means that losses are equally possible, which could cause detrimental financial possibilities. Financial implications resulting from betting losses can lead to stress, anxiety, and a range of negative emotions. Additionally, the introduction of financial incentives tied to betting outcomes can create conflicts of interest within the team, potentially compromising fair play and threatening the integrity of competition.
4. Increased Risk of Addiction: Sports betting carries a risk of addiction, which can have severe consequences on mental health. Student athletes may be particularly vulnerable due to their competitive nature and desire for success. Excessive gambling can lead to financial problems, strained relationships, and a decline in overall mental well-being. The pressure to continuously win and the adrenaline rush associated with betting can be addictive, leading to a harmful cycle that impacts both athletic performance and personal life. Additionally, with NIL now emerging as a major player in college athletics, athletes’ gaining access to more funds may lead to potential careless decisions with their money, and sports betting could become a tempting avenue for athletes to pour their funds into.
5. Stigma and Isolation: Student athletes facing challenges related to sports betting may feel isolated and hesitant to seek support due to the associated stigma. They might fear judgment from teammates, coaches, and their support system. This fear of being labeled as "weak" or "irresponsible" can prevent them from seeking help when needed, exacerbating mental health issues and increasing feelings of isolation.
6. Potential On-Campus danger: Collegiate athletes face a set of circumstances that sets them apart from other athletes in the competitive arena, especially when it pertains to sports betting. Unlike professional athletes, college athletes live and attend classes among individuals who may bet on their performances. This unique situation places additional pressure on athletes and can potentially create an environment where risks like danger, neglect, and violence are more likely to emerge due to the athletes' close proximity to those who gamble on their competitive efforts. Something to also note of a recent done study:
“A survey of more than 3,500 18-to-22-year-olds found that sports wagering is pervasive, with 58% having engaged in at least one sports betting activity. The survey said that 67% of students living on campus are bettors and tend to bet at a higher frequency; 41% of college students who bet on sports have placed a bet on their school's teams; and 35% have used a student bookmaker.” (SI, 5/24)
We must get ahead of this issue, or else the impact will hit student athletes the hardest. While we know we can’t stop sports betting, we need to find ways to protect collegiate sports and the student athletes of tomorrow coming up in them. Stay tuned for part two, which we will talk about way’s college athletic programs can take steps to protect their student athletes from these potential impacts.