Editor’s note: The student athletes interviewed for this story requested to remain anonymous.
When asked about mental health, many of Slippery Rock’s student athletes said they feel an adequate amount of stress from their workload. The generalized opinion from athletes was that it is very difficult to balance their homework, personal life and sport schedule.
“Being a student athlete requires a well-balanced lifestyle of athletics and academics in order to successfully play a sport and earn a degree,” an athlete said.
A factor that coaches enforce strictly to help student athletes manage their time is mandatory study hall hours. Each student athlete is required to spend a certain number of hours per week doing homework or studying for exams. If students are unable to maintain the grades, attendance to study hall or their GPA drops below 2.0, they cannot compete in games or practices due to academic probation.
Eligibility of student athletes is a requirement by The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) as well as Slippery Rock University. Implementing those study hours allows for student athletes to have a set time of the day to do school work, which helps to alleviate a good bit of their stress.
However, Slippery Rock athletics are widely known for having high grade point averages and honors those athletes for managing their time so well. Slippery Rock football program had 12 players receive academic excellence accolades for earning a 4.0 GPA in the spring of 2021, not including other players who still made high honor roll.
In a recent interview, Coach Shawn Lutz said he was proud of the academic integrity his football team has. “Some of them strictly came back to complete a Master’s degree, which I commend them for doing after already earning their undergraduate degrees,” he said.
A 2015 survey taken by the NCAA found that at least 30% of student athletes reported overwhelming feelings of stress. Additionally, nearly 25% lacked the energy to do schoolwork due to the mental exhaustion and physiological demands of their sport.
“Daily practices, lifting and traveling alone make allowing time for extracurriculars that much harder,” said one athlete. Maintaining coursework and efficiently getting good grades hold the greatest importance to Slippery Rock athletes.
They added, “It makes having relationships and practicing social wellness hard to add into that mix,” an athlete said. However, being a collegiate athlete is something that changes your life for the best reasons.”
Slippery Rock athletics pride themselves on their pristine sports medicine staff, with a large staff of athletic trainers available to accommodate their athletes postgame with physical rehab and relaxation methods.
What most people do not realize is that anxiety is largely associated with athletes who are under large amounts of stress, and continue to ignore it, receiving no treatment. Having a mental health disorder can largely affect athletic performance, and Slippery Rock ensures that their athletic guidelines protect their student athletes.
“I never struggled with mental health until I started getting busy with athletics in college,” an athlete said. “It can affect how you play if you let it consume you, and that is why I decided to get help.”
In fact, sport psychologists say athletic anxiety is a common frequent of depression in student athletes. To shed light on this crisis, the belief that athletes cannot show weakness is something the NCAA has dismantled.
Within most athletic programs at The Rock there is an emphasis on personal development and growing character instilled into athletics. A large chunk of the coaches pride themselves on creating not just outstanding athletes, but men and women who are prepared to become adults in a workplace setting as well as parents.
Some resources that the university has available to accommodate these stressors are the Student Health Center and the Counseling Center. These institutions allow students to have free access to therapists and medical pharmacists that are trained to treat mental illnesses or even to just allow students to talk with a trained professional about their struggles.
“Mental toughness” is a reference used by varying coaches of Rock athletics as a form of encouragement, but causes damage for athletes who may be struggling with feelings of anxiety, stress or depression. Instead of encouraging student athletes to not disclose their mental health and to be “mentally tough”, student athletes should know they have resources on campus to take advantage of for assistance with managing their mental health.
“While being a student athlete is a mental challenge at times, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”