Mental Health MattersD1 Players Society
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This month, Peyton St. George shares why mental health matters, not only to her but for all student-athletes.
Why Mental Health Matters?
As my 5th year of being a student-athlete slowly comes to an end, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experiences. Lately, the topic of why mental health matters has flooded all social media. It’s easy to post, retweet, comment, and like the content surrounding this topic, but the discussion of it needs to extend far beyond these catchy graphics and bold statistics. Writing this article was far from easy, as it’s hard to condense my thoughts on this heavy topic into a few hundred words. My intention is a hope that you, as a reader, take something small from this piece that encourages you to continue the conversation.
Embrace the grind. Push your way through. Be mentally tough. As athletes, we’re expected to accept this as our normal. The ability to keep pushing is supposed to make us stronger, better, and more driven. When in reality, the “grind” is tearing us apart. When will we realize that the pressure of the “grind” shouldn’t be normalized? When will we stop ignoring the mental and physical effects of the “grind” on our minds and bodies? When will we realize that the “grind” is causing student-athletes to take their own life?
The grind that everyone speaks so highly about looks a little something like this:
6:30-8:00 AM: Lift
8:30-12:45 PM: Class
1:00-2:00 PM: Treatment
2:00-2:45 PM: Meetings
3:30-6:15 PM: Practice
6:30-7:30 PM: Team dinner
7:30-11:30 PM: Homework
It’s not uncommon for a student-athlete to not be able to fit three meals into their day. It’s also not uncommon for a student-athlete to consistently get below seven hours of sleep a night. Put those two together for days, even weeks at a time, and you’re left with poor performance and/or injury from not enough sleep and not enough fuel. The solution? More time spent in the training room getting treatment or at the field taking extra reps. Less time spent getting help from professors would most likely result in falling behind academically, which isn’t an easy bridge to gap when an athlete is already missing one or two days of class a week to adhere to their packed 56-game schedule.
The “grind” becomes so fragile to the athlete that if one piece falters, everything else will follow in its tracks. While in school, we are given many resources and outlets of knowledge to succeed, so why are things still so difficult at times? For example, let me put it this way, a school’s nutritionist can meet with a team weekly and inform them how to eat, when to eat, and what to eat to best optimize their performance, but none of this matters if an athlete doesn’t even have time to properly eat. We are told not to tie our performance with our identity, to find things outside of our sport that make us happy and keep us grounded. Yet, if an athlete can’t find significant time to sit down and eat a meal or meet with their professors to catch up on schoolwork, when will they find significant time to do things outside of their sport that they love? The cold hard reality is, that there has to be sacrifice.
Being a student-athlete at Duke University, the academic rigor has proven to be challenging. As a freshman, my coaches, teammates, academic advisors, professors, nutritionists, and everyone around me told me to “find balance” in all aspects of my experience. It took me years to do so, and even now, I still struggle. Little did I know that balance, in most cases, meant sacrifice.
On some days, losing a few hours of sleep to catch up on a big assignment may be worth it because I know I’ll be traveling the next four days and missing a few classes. On other days, I choose to spend my allotted homework time getting ice cream, going out to dinner, or watching a movie with friends because I know it makes me happy. Then there are some bad days, when both my academics and social life may suffer so I can catch up on sleep for a big game. At the end of all of these days, I am consistently putting my performance in my sport first. This is the nature of most student-athletes. Not to say that we don’t prioritize our academics or the relationships that fill our social batteries, but our sport requires a lot of sacrifice.
As you can imagine, when a student-athlete sacrifices everything else for their performance and it doesn’t reap the benefits we’ve worked so hard for, the “grind” becomes a fragile, vicious cycle.
So why does this matter? This matters because everyone that a student-athlete may interact with daily can impact this vicious cycle positively or negatively. There is no one solution, but the smallest of actions can have the biggest impacts. Reach out to your teammates, not just when they seem to be having an off day. Get ice cream with your friends, even if it means missing an assignment or two. Sleep a little longer, those extra reps will still be there tomorrow. Take a walk by yourself, you know your thoughts better than anyone else. Buy something you enjoy every now and then, you’ll be glad you did. Form relationships with your professors, they go a long way at the end of the semester.
Continue to do things that help you find balance so your mental health doesn’t become the sacrifice.
As May, or Mental Health Awareness Month quickly comes to an end, let us continue to bring awareness to the epidemic we are faced with and carry on the conversation. Let us continue to encourage others to reach out when May has passed and the headlines fade. Let us help those who haven’t found their balance far beyond the catchy graphics and bold statistics.
At the end of every day, it is easier to be kind than to be nothing at all.
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