Sports / The Prairie Fire / November 7, 2018

Student-athletes see disconnect on mental health

Senior Rosie Medina runs the ball down the field in the Fire’s game against St. Norbert College on Nov. 3. Medina struggles with panic attacks on the field and turns to her friends on the team to stay calm after her coach benched her after having an anxiety attack. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

Senior Rosie Medina felt her throat close up as the soccer game around her started to move unbearably fast. She was already performing poorly in the game, but now panic started to sink in. She was having an anxiety attack.

Medina and other student athletes not only need to manage the physical injuries sports bring them, but mental wounds as well when dealing with a losing game or season.

“Sometimes [the game] can engulf me so much that I get too drawn into it and I can’t focus on what I should be doing. It comes crashing down all of a sudden … A game like soccer, it’s very mentally draining to try to keep yourself together. It takes a lot of strength to do that,” Medina said.

The anxiety attack happened during the women’s soccer match against Occidental College earlier this year. Knox lost the game 2-1. Medina had to be pulled off the field and didn’t start for the next few games.

After losses like that, Medina turns to her friends on the team for support. When she’s feeling bad or anxious over a game, they pull her aside and tell her to take a breather.

“I’m lucky in the sense that my best friends are on the team,” Medina said.

Though senior Logan Hollis hasn’t ever experienced a reaction that strongly on the football field, he knows what it’s like to rely on team members to keep morale high. Hollis admits that the football team at Knox has been going through a few years of rebuilding and have suffered their fair share of losses.

Hollis, used to a winning background from his high school football days, found it difficult not to get frustrated over a bad play or a bad game when he first came to Knox.

“Afterwards it’s tough for me, I beat myself up … When you don’t have a good game, you feel like you let [your teammates] down. That’s the hardest part. Your teammates are some of your best friends. You don’t ever want them to look over and say ‘oh, he let us down,’” Hollis said.

Hollis says teammates look out for one another and make sure to lift each other up if they see someone is being too hard on themselves. As an upperclassmen, he tries to stay connected with the freshmen on the team and check in with them.

“You gotta have a short memory … one bad game [doesn’t tell] the whole story. It’s a four year process and there is so much that goes into it. You gotta get through the ups and downs,” Hollis said.

 

The Athletic Administration on mental health:

 

During a Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) meeting held on Nov. 6 at 12:30 p.m., members of the committee were asked to speak about mental health support offered by athletics. Caught off guard, the committee was silent before President Jordan Anderson stated that the resources provided by athletics “make this institution great.”

“Whether it be on mental health, whether it be on sexual assault prevention, whether it be on community service in general, I think they provide plenty of resources,” Anderson said. “I’ve always felt, even though I’ve never been affected by this personally, that if there’s something that comes up where I’m struggling, I have many avenues to take and things I can reach out to.”

Two members of SAAC did not feel comfortable stating their experiences during the group meeting, but reached out separately to speak about it after. Senior Errol Kaylor enjoys the structure swimming provides and believed the swim team does a good job of being there for one another, but he thinks that positivity can be stripped away in competitions.

“In my experience, [our team does] a good job understanding that mental toughness isn’t something that necessarily comes naturally to a lot of people on our team,” Kaylor said. “I think we do an okay job of that during meets. I think this comes from the mental health aspects of athletics in general, but I think 99 percent of the time is not during competition.”

Junior swimmer Sylvie Bowen-Bailey also feels a level of negativity during competitions but can’t pinpoint exactly where it stems from.

“When I get to meets, I have a lot of things associated with being at swim meets. And I have a lot of hard times behind the block or even during races sometimes that I don’t think I’ll ever figure out while I’m a college athlete, so I try and focus on the positive things that practice does for me,” Bowen-Bailey said.

Athletic Director Daniella Irle agreed with Anderson’s sentiment, and believes that athletics has many avenues for student-athletes, as well as great staff education on mental health. However, she has a different stance on how losing affects mental health.

“Losing doesn’t create a mental health problem. Losing just contributes to it. If losing causes a mental health issue, there’s something else there that’s not being addressed,” Irle said.

“So I don’t think losing itself causes anyone to have depression or things. I think it contributes. It’s not that simple. If you’re mentally healthy and in a good place, then you’d process losing and make the most of it,” Irle said.

Athletic Director Daniella Irle had a lot to say about the mental health of athletes and the initiatives athletics takes to make sure that athletes have a positive experience and stay in a good realm of mental health, using staff education and things like Fresh Check Day on campus. (Katy Coseglia/TKS)

The struggle for self-care:

 

Assistant Athletic Director and Senior Women’s Administrator Lexie Vernon believes it can be harder for athletes to seek the help they may need due to lack of time to practice self-care.

“Sometimes [student-athletes] get so busy and focused going from one thing to the next … so by the time you actually have a second to take care of yourself, you’re drained. I think that the self-care piece is really important,” Vernon said.

“I would hope that the way we can frame the student-athlete experience is, yes we want you to come in and work hard, yes we want you to be dedicated to your team … but I think that self-care piece is really important, how it’s okay to take care of yourself even though you have a zillion things to do in the day,” Vernon said.

Medina can’t remember whether mental health resources were ever talked about on the soccer team in previous years, but mentioned that this year their coach made sure to mention the resources the school had. However, she feels like there isn’t time built in their schedule to allow her to take advantage of the resources.

“I feel like an appointment [with counseling services] would almost add to my schedule, which can be a lot,” Medina said.

 

Noticing the signs:

 

Irle believes that it’s hard for the people around you not to notice problems with mental health when surrounded by them every day for a few hours.

“I think athletics is good for mental health. I think you’ve got more people around you, a more structured support staff,” Irle said. “I don’t think athletes deal with mental health problems better than any other person in the community. But I think we probably have more resources to deal with it and more people to identify it. You have teammates that are with you so much, how can they not notice?”

Medina disagrees and brought up the fact that there were cases of Division I athletes struggling with mental health and it went unnoticed.

“I don’t know if there is too much of a stigma with athletes because we’re ‘strong’ or whatever. I just remember that being talked about. Especially, there have been some cases with D1 athletes committing suicide. No one knew because they thought they were so happy and had it all and were really talented,” Medina said.

Bowen-Bailey believes that unless mental health is directly talked about on a team, it’s never really discussed due to stigma. While Hollis and Medina find a more open emotional support system on their team, that isn’t necessarily true across all team environments based on coaching styles and team structures.

Medina thinks that having more open conversations about mental health on teams can improve the stigma. She knows she would support any one of her teammates if they needed it.

“Maybe it’s one of those things where you don’t want to be a burden on someone else … I’d say [to overcome it] go to one of your closest friends, it could be a boyfriend or something,” Medina said. “Someone you know wouldn’t judge you and have someone talk you out of it [and remind you] that you’re a strong individual despite what your mind is doing to you.”

If you have a personal concern or are concerned for someone else, report it. Counseling services can be reached at 309-341-7492.

Emily Mosher, Sports Editor
Zarah Khan, Co-Mosaic Editor
Zarah Khan is a senior majoring in English literature and minoring in political science. She started volunteer writing during Fall term of her sophomore year.

Tags:  athletics daniella irle Emily Mosher lexie vernon logan hollis mental health prairie fire rose medina Stigma tks zarah khan

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