Column: The Unspeakable

Katie Dalton, Head Multimedia Editor

On April 29, I made the gut-wrenching decision to leave my high school soccer team in order to place my mental health before my competitive will. I was putting my health before my competitive desire to win. But it was also something that I never imagined myself doing. That was until I joined high school soccer, of course. 

The senior year of my high school soccer experience was one that I will never forget, not because it was the Naperville Central soccer team’s greatest season of my time, but because it was a perfect example of the athletic program’s lack of care for a positive culture.

When I began my senior season, I was initially set back by a head injury, which resulted in me having to sit out of soccer for seven weeks. I missed practice, games and most importantly, team bonding activities that I had been looking forward to since my freshman year.  As I started to play soccer again, I was faced with the fear of re-injury and a destroyed confidence. Not only did my concussion cause my mind to be affected physically and mentally, but it caused me to lose out on time with my teammates that I so heavily needed. 

When I rejoined, I was faced with little instances of rude comments made toward me which ultimately grew into embarrassment. At this point, I felt as if I had nobody to turn to, and made the decision to strengthen my mental health by leaving the team entirely. 

I have played soccer through depression and anxiety for years, but this past April was when I finally realized enough was enough. I learned how to separate mental toughness in athletics from mental health, which resulted in me understanding my own worth. 

My story shows only one side to the holistic image of athlete mental health, and this past year, we as a society have lost not only great athletes but great people to mental health battles. Athletes who are scared to put themselves before their sport and care for their health and well-being are being unheard. 

This is my calling for other athletes who suffer through mental health battles to speak up about their own issues that they experience in their sport. I cannot express how important it is to put mental health before athletics and to care for your mind over your body. 

What is the next step to support athletes who suffer from mental health battles? My suggestion is to lobby the Illinois High School Association to require all coaches to participate in mental health training courses every year before their season starts. By putting this in place, coaches will understand when to reach out to players, what comments might go “too far” and how to support each and every individual athlete. 

Coaches, parents, administrators and fans, you must see athletes as human beings, not only as a player on a field, court or track.

Let’s do the unspeakable and put athletes’ mental health before athletics.