Mental Health’s Love/Hate Relationship with College Athletics
Talk to any high school athlete and they will tell you sports are one of the biggest blessings in their lives. For them, sports are a place to let off steam. For them, sports are a place to have fun playing the sport they love. Most of all, sports are an outlet. I think that this idea of “sports being an outlet” gets lost sometimes when we go off to college to play competitive Division I athletics.
In high school every day, I woke up, went to school for six hours, went to practice for another two, and came home to dinner on the table. Don’t get me wrong, at times this routine definitely got to me given the added drama and stresses of growing up and of high school in general. But at the end of the day, I looked forward to those two hours of practice because I knew that that was two hours of my day that I didn’t have to think about ridiculous high school drama or the test I had tomorrow. Practice was a place for me to be with my best friends, playing the sport we love, like we’ve done together since middle school.
I think there are a majority of high school athletes who have aspirations to play at the collegiate level. But, there are only a handful of us who have our sights dead set on Division I and let me tell you it’s a grind to get there not only for us but for our parents as well. And when that dream finally becomes a reality, and you commit to play at the Division I level, there is no better feeling in the world. It’s all that hard work and all the sacrifices actually paying off and realizing you get to play the sport you love, at the most competitive level for another four years.
Yes, people tried to tell us how hard it was going to be playing Division I athletics but let’s be honest we didn’t really listen to what they were saying. For us, this has been our dream since we started playing as little kids and nothing was going to stop us. It isn’t until you step on campus for preseason, that you start to see that Division I athletics is a whole different ball game.
I’ve seen the effect of the demand of college athletics on our mental health both through my teammates and first hand. Whether it’s the sport itself, the course load on top of the sport’s demanding schedule, or trying to find that un-achievable balance between having a social life, getting good grades, and getting a respectable amount of sleep. Somewhere along the line, I think its safe to say that a great majority of Division I athletes hit a breaking point, with some being more severe than others. Personally, I think my breaking point came when I watched the sport I used to love and find comfort in as an outlet, start turning into more of an obligation or a job. This is when I started to realize that my mental health was experiencing a sort of roller coaster like, love hate relationship with field hockey. Like everything in life, we have good days and bad days.
But I think when it came to field hockey, I was experiencing such drastic highs and lows that it was hard to make sense of it all. On the good days, field hockey was that outlet, that stress reliever, that escape that made me fall in love with the sport in the first place. But, on the other hand, on the bad days I felt that I couldn’t get a hold of my life and that the commitment to field hockey was the root of the problem. Every aspect of my life was impacted by field hockey in some way, shape, or form. And the worst part of it all was that I kept these feelings bottled up inside. I felt that I couldn’t talk about the stress I was experiencing with my parents or friends from home because at the end of the day, I chose to play at the Division I level. I chose to have this type of schedule. And even worse these people tried to tell me how hard it would be.
I think that for every college athlete at every level these bad days are inevitable. There are going to be days that you have 6:00am lift, conditioning practice, a film session, followed by three midterms (not to mention you were up until 2:00am studying).
"There are going to be days that you can’t get out of your own head enough to even receive a ball at practice. There are going to be days that you are just dead tired and you can’t even roll out of bed because you’re so sore. But most important of all, there are going to be good days."
There are going to be days that you walk into the locker room to see your teammates smiling rapping their butts off to dreams and nightmares. There are going to be days that you absolutely crush a practice. There are going to be days that you beat Dartmouth for the first time your senior year after losing to them 9-0 your freshman year.
Division I athletics is a roller coaster of peaks and valleys where our mental health is concerned. But even during the worst of the worst, you can take comfort in looking to your right and left and seeing your teammates standing by your side, there for you every step the way. And at the end of the day, these are your last four years to play the sport you love with a family of teammates that is a unique bond that is found at the Division I level. It’s these bonds that make the good and the awful all worth it.
Olivia Lehane, Senior
Sacred Heart Field Hockey
Class of 2019