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Opinion | Student-athletes must find balance

Photo: Cecilia van Bers

Student-athletes today are faced with a difficult task.

That task? Being a student-athlete.

A “student-athlete” is a person taking part in an organized professional sport put on by an educational institution. In essence, a person who has to train, compete and perform well in competitive sports, as well as study, learn and perform well in the classroom.

This is no easy feat, and figuring out the delicate balance between these two priorities can be daunting.

“The biggest challenge is trying to find time to study,” Alabama rower Ter’ria Howard said. “Finding time to get the correct amount of rest while still showing up and giving 100% in practice.”

Performance is constantly on student-athletes’ minds. Performance in the classroom and in their respective sporting events is important and can lead to mental challenges when things start to go awry on either side.

“You’re in college, but you’re not like other students,” Alabama women’s basketball guard JaMya Mingo-Young said. “You have to be places all day every day, and you don’t really have the freedom that other college students have. Then if you’re not performing well, you can get lost in the middle of all of it.”

These pressures can begin to wear on their mental health.

Nearly 30% of male student-athletes and nearly 50% of female student-athletes reported feeling overwhelmed, according to a well-being survey conducted by the NCAA in the fall of 2020. Roughly 12% of males and 30% of females felt overwhelming anxiety, and nearly 10% of males and 15% of females had feelings of hopelessness, according to the same study.

Many student-athletes develop their own methods to deal with the stresses that arise.

“I try to maintain a basic schedule because every day can be pretty much the same,” Mingo-Young said. “You schedule around your things and plan your days ahead; that way you’re prepared every day.”

While the balance will always be difficult to take on alone, student-athletes have teammates embarking on the same journey alongside them, experiencing the same things, and can provide counsel to those who are struggling.

“A piece of advice I would give is: If you feel like everything is exhausting or overwhelming, the best thing to do is reach out,” Howard said. “A teammate who’s been there, who knows the ropes, talk to them and ask them for advice. Watching somebody lead by example is way better than trying to figure it out on your own.”

Good mental health is a challenge to maintain, especially for those juggling as many things as student-athletes do. While having teammates and coaches by their side doesn’t make everything easier, it helps ease the load.

Story by Health Edition

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