I always know when I have a bad game or a bad practice. I can see the disappointment in my coach’s eyes and my teammates’ faces. “You must do better…That wasn’t good,” they tell me as I walk off the field, hanging my head low.
All I see is the multiple training sessions per week, both with my team at practice and on my own, cramming my schoolwork in between bites of my 9 p.m. dinner while still squeezing in time to fulfill my obligations for numerous other extracurriculars. To myself, I am a failure. But to many, I am just overworked and overscheduled.
Being a competitive high school athlete is difficult, but it is necessary in order to continue on an athletic path into college. We spend countless hours training alone, traveling far for practices and going out of town almost every weekend to compete against high level teams. Club sports alone are overall draining, but when they clash with the responsibility of being an exceptional student, it throws athletes down a spiral of soon-neglected mental illness.
In a study done by a team of physicians, child health experts and researchers from UW Health, they found that about 68% of the 3,243 student-athletes surveyed reported feelings of anxiety and depression at an amount that typically requires medical intervention.
Even though a large amount of student-athletes experience signs of poor mental health, many do not look for professional help for a multitude of reasons. They might not have enough time in their schedule for appointments, are too afraid of receiving judgement from coaches or teammates or are scared to take new medicines that might negatively affect their bodies.
If you have ever experienced a panic attack before, you know that it is not like in the movies. The whole world feels like it is collapsing in on you, you can’t breathe, you can barely move and your mind wanders off somewhere else trying to find a cause for this awful feeling. For many student-athletes this isn’t just a one time thing: this is a monthly, weekly or sometimes even daily occurrence that wedges its way into your life.
To ourselves, we are broken. Weak. Scared. Afraid. Worthless. Dramatic.
To some, we are strong. Courageous. Passionate. Tough. Driven. Focused.
This is an athlete who is overworked. Stressed. Tired. Pressured. Judged. Threatened.
In reality, we are just human.
As humans and athletes, we need to know that we’re more than just failures. We need to know that we can step out onto the field, court, track, rink, mat or floor and play our hearts out, not thinking about the schoolwork, activities or social life that we are shackled to, but just the game.
We aren’t alone. There are thousands of student-athletes just like us who feel like “overworked failures” who are real athletes, real humans. We’re not failures. We are champions.