The Mind Games of COVID-19: Student Athletes Face Mental Health Struggles UPDATED

Written by Jamir Harris

College sports has taken a major financial hit during the six months pause from real life as we all knew it. College athletes were deeply affected by the coronavirus not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. There is so much uncertainty surrounding whether or not student athletes will be able to compete and whether it is even worth an athlete’s time and effort towards preparing for a season. Fans, coaches and schools are upset with the situation of college sports. For student athletes the psychological and emotional effects of COVID has a different feel to it.

The pandemic itself was not expected, nor was the magnitude of how dangerous and life threatening it can be. COVID has posed a threat to the chances of playing professional sports for many student athletes. Fear has taken over their minds as well.

“I’ve worked my whole life to reach my goal of playing in college and I’m afraid it’s going to be taken away from me.” Zach Martini of Princeton University said in an interview.

Martini is a freshman on the Men’s Basketball team and did not expect his first year as a collegiate athlete to be in jeopardy. Hope is what Martini holds on to as he works diligently to prepare for a season, he’s not sure will even happen. For Martini this isn’t easy.

“What am I doing all this for right now, with the hope and the end goal that will be back on campus someday.” Martini said in an interview.

For upperclassmen student athletes, new mental challenges are present. The collegiate athlete life is routine for them and not being able to resort back to what has led to success is difficult.

“I take pride in having mental toughness, but the uncertainty of COVID-19 has all but a positive impact on my mental health.” Taylor Brown of American University said in an interview.

As a member of the Women’s basketball team at American University, Brown’s season is approaching and she would hate for a summer full of hard work to go to waste.

“I’ve worked extremely hard this summer and COVID is not only jeopardizing my season, but my efforts to become a better player as well. Brown said in an interview.

Billy Walker, the athletic director at American University, is well aware of the pain and frustration student athletes endure with COVID-19. Also, he recognizes how mentally draining the uncertainty of the pandemic can be for collegiate athletes.

“As an AD I consider myself a part of a family with my athletes and once COVID first hit, it was immediately brutal for me to tell my athletes their seasons were over, it was a gut-wrenching feeling.”

Walker said his biggest concern with the pandemic is how unpredictable the virus can be.

“We don’t have control of the virus.” Walker said.

Due to the lack of control with the virus, Walker fears the possible cancellation of winter and spring seasons, however, he is more fearful of the psychological stress it will have on his student athletes.

At the surface student athletes are struggling mentally with having a future filled with uncertainty with their competitive seasons. However, it’s deeper than that.

College sports consist of teams and one necessity for a team to succeed is comradery. Comradery is essential and COVID is robbing athletes of the opportunity to have it.

For many student athletes it is hard to wrap their head around.

“No one is allowed to be around each other, like I barely even know my teammates.” Elijah Mitchell of Mercy University said in an interview.

Last year was Mitchell’s final semester at Monroe Junior college where he played basketball. Now at Mercy University on a full scholarship, Mitchell is surrounded by all new faces and for him comradery is essential.

“I need to know how my teammates are mentally and physically, we need to bond.” Mitchel said in an interview.

As a student athlete there are many facets of college which require discipline. For instance, it requires discipline to stay focused and complete all of your school work or to stay determined to make choices which won’t jeopardize your athletic scholarship.

COVID-19, however, enforces the need for a new type of discipline. The discipline of being completely transparent with how you feel and what you are doing.

In usual circumstances personal business is solely personal, but with the pandemic personal business can affect everyone. The challenge of being transparent at all times can be the difference between having a competitive season or not.

Medical trainers and staff members at universities are requiring all student athletes to be clear with how they are feeling no matter what. This is the case with all colleges worldwide because the spread of the virus is the last thing anybody wants.

“I have told my trainer when I have a stuffy nose or a symptom of COVID-19, and the more we all do that, the less likely our competitive seasons will be shut down. Brenden Kelly of East Carolina University said in an interview.

Kelly is a freshman on East Carolina University’s Men’s basketball team and he admitted being transparent with his coaches and trainers about everything he does is difficult. Furthermore, he explained how being forced to be extra careful with every decision due to COVID-19, enhances the mental hurdle which already exists.

Psychologically and emotionally student athletes are struggling with the new reality of life that COVID-19 has presented. Time will tell if and when the life of a collegiate athlete will go back to normal.

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