Invisible Injuries: How M-A Athletes deal with Mental Health By maxine moss and Mia Angioletti

Editors’ note: In the original post, the authors quoted students who pointed out a lack of mental health resources for the football team and finals week practices with no days off for the girls basketball team.The title suggested that the article reflected the actions of the Athletic Department. We regret the decision to not fact check the sources nor interview any of the involved coaches. We are currently reaching out to more athletes and coaches in order to present complete perspectives on the topic of stress in student athletes. The following letter is a reply from the girls basketball team coach concerning the original article posted.

Mental health for student athletes has become a big talking point in the world of college athletics, with new initiatives popping up to help ease the stress of performance on the field as well as in the classroom. A recent study found that around 24% of collegiate athletes meet the requirements of clinical depression. While studies into collegiate athletics have continued to bring to light the stress and mental health of college athletes, the conversation regarding the mental health of high school student-athletes remains fairly untapped.

M-A student athletes have many different perspectives on the way their coaches focus on mental health. Boys varsity basketball player Nils Glader and girls varsity wrestling captain Lauren McDonnell feel that their coaches put the same effort into looking out for their mental health as for their physical health. Girls varsity basketball player, Catherine Chai, does not feel there is the same the effort put in by her coaches. Chai stated, “Although my coach was good at teaching basketball, she did a poor job in prioritizing mental health.” Chai discussed the pressure she felt due to the intense expectations of basketball as well as continuing to be a student.

Lauren McDonnell bringing home a win for the M-A Bear. Photo Credit: Evelyn Calhoon

During the 2018 finals season, Chai’s coach continued to have two and a half hour practices during the week, when all M-A sport teams are supposed to have the week off. When varsity football player Connor Gentile was questioned about whether or not his coaches prioritize mental health, he responded, “Honestly, I don’t think they do very much. If they were more conscious about the amounts of homework, I think that they would shorten or change the time to right after school, and then have an optional study hall after practice.”

Both Chai and and Gentile believe their coaches place a much greater emphasis on physical health than mental health. According to Chai, “Our coach prioritized our physical health way higher than our mental health. If mental health was any type of priority to her, then she would’ve been more encouraging and thoughtful when running and scheduling our practices. Instead, she thought that basketball was everyone’s main goal and pursuit in life and pushed us the way a professional athlete would be pushed.”

Catharine Chai during an M-A girl's varsity basketball game. Photo Credit: Lara Hoyem

Additionally Chai started, “When we were watching our game film, she made us individually call out our other teammates’ mistakes in front of everyone and this made me feel extremely paranoid about making a mistake in our future games because it seemed like she demanded perfection.” Chai explained that stress from basketball did not just end after leaving the gym.

On Sundays, the only day the team has off, “she expected us to still be practicing which doesn’t really show any appreciation towards mental health because us players need a break.” Chai shared that “during school I would constantly think about basketball and it kind of distracted me from doing work. Also I remember revolving my day around my practice to where I would rest the whole entire to day to make sure I wasn’t tired for practice because they were that hard.”

The M-A girl's varsity basketball team huddle up during a game. Photo Credit: Lara Hoyem

While the football team holds mandatory study hall to encourage players to maintain their grades during the busyness of the football season, Gentile feels that “for a lot of kids study hall is a waste of time and I would be able to get much more work done if I went home earlier, therefore letting me get more sleep and reducing my stress levels. Outside of the coaches checking to make sure you’re not failing any classes, there aren’t any team-based resources for getting help.”

Gentile also feels that stress from football affects himself and other members of the team outside of practice. He stated, “I know that a lot of my teammates struggle with issues at home, which probably has a very negative impact on their mental health, but they never show it. I wouldn’t say they would be mocked for ‘showing weakness,’ as we have a very close and understanding team, but it’s just not something many would feel comfortable doing.”

Both Glader and McDonnell feel that their coaches have made an effort to cater to their athletes physical and mental health throughout the season. According to McDonnell, “If someone needs to miss a practice so that they do not feel as stressed, the coaches are very accommodating and are really invested in us as both wrestlers and individual people.” Wrestling is a great outlet for girls on the team to “work on their time management and overcoming certain anxieties,” explained McDonnell.

M-A Bears watch their teammates intently. Photo Credit: Heath Hooper//M-A Chronicle

For Glader, “stress inside basketball doesn’t really affect me outside of school. Although it is time consuming, I am able to keep my head up and stay focused on school. For others it may differ, but I always look at the bright side.” He admits that while “performance anxiety is very common for me and teammates, before every game we are able to get in the right mindset and play our hearts out on the court. All of the support we have and love for each other really helps our anxiety away.”

Support from both his teammates and his coach has proven key when players are overcoming stress or anxiety. Glader discussed a particular teammate who was dealing with a mental health issue and “was able to recover very quickly due to all of the support.”

1 in 4 teens deal with mental health in the United States, many of which attend M-A and participate in Athletics. The injuries may not be physically visible but they are just as harmful as physical injuries within sports.

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