Being a student-athlete is challenging. They have to fulfill their role in the classroom while proving their worth out on the playing field. Many hope to clinch college sports scholarships or even pursue sports professionally. The risk of incurring career-ending injuries always weighs heavily on their minds. Then there’s the additional stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, student-athletes are increasingly at risk of developing depression and anxiety.
Fortunately, there’s one figure in their lives who can help: the coach. This is partly why the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the demand for coaches is growing at a faster-than-average rate compared to other occupations. In turn, this has led to more universities offering holistic exercise degrees that focus on both athletics and wellness in sport. This means that today’s coaches are trained in behavioral strategies in order to better suit the mental needs of their athletes. All this is happening for good reason: such an educational background equips more coaches with the behavioral strategies they need to hone student-athletes both physically and mentally. If you’re a coach yourself, read below to learn more about how your influence can help uplift the student-athletes in your life.
You can dictate culture You and your team are naturally motivated to win. However, it's important that the culture you create within your team pushes for these wins in sustainable ways. That’s why we’ve mentioned that though tracking student-athletes’ mental health can be challenging, one way to definitively alleviate pressure is to do away with notions of mental toughness and normalizing conversations about mental health. Do your best to destigmatize such conversations. Emphasize that mental wellness is crucial if your student-athletes want to play at their best. Most importantly, focus on the efforts your student-athletes put in. This way, you'll be able to see what each of them needs to perform better moving forward. After all, the best wins are made when student-athletes are in the best shape physically and mentally — making this a more sustainable way of reaching your goals.
You can spot the signs Student-athletes usually train for 40 hours each week — and that means they spend most of their time with you. You’re thus in one of the best positions to spot signs of mental health issues. You know what your players look like in top form, so you can easily discern dramatic changes in behavior or ongoing performance slumps both in training and in the classroom. Thanks to the bonds you form with them, you’ll also be privy to any issues happening at home or in school that might be affecting their performance. You can thus better focus on them, listen to their concerns, direct them to mental health resources — or, as we’ll discuss below, even help them out yourself.
You’re the first line of defense
Since you spend so much time with your student-athletes, you can not only spot the early signs of mental health issues but also help nip them in the bud before things get more serious. Your training gives you a comprehensive background in wellness management that gives you the evidence-based tools you need to encourage sustainable habits in nutrition, health, and health behavior — all of which can boost student-athletes’ wellbeing. You’ll also be able to tell when a student-athlete needs to take further steps by consulting a licensed mental health professional. This only makes you even more vital as the first line of defense in addressing student-athletes’ mental health issues.
You’re the mentor As a coach, you share your knowledge and experience of the sport, impart key skills, and help your players grow. Your student-athletes look up to you and are more responsive to your input. This gives you the unique ability to mentor them not just in sports, but in life as well. Arguably one of the most important life skills you can teach them is self-care. Set a good example and show them how to listen to the needs of both their bodies and their minds. Teach them that it’s okay to take a breather. You’ll help them develop sustainable mental health practices that they can take with them into adulthood.
Being a student-athlete is already challenging, especially today. By recognizing your crucial role as a coach in boosting their mental health, you can guide them through the tough spots in their lives and help them emerge as better people — and better student-athletes.
Written by Anna Creston exclusively for Itsthezone.com. All rights reserved.