The fine line

How athletes juggle their sports and extracurriculars with mental health.



Asking for help. It’s one of those things that happens to be way easier said than done. In a society that is overly focused on productivity, it’s hard to stop and self-reflect on what the body and mind truly need. It’s often a misconception that to be proactive and to achieve great things, it’s better when “the grind” is completed alone.

Athletes are a large group of individuals that know this grind all too well. Late-night games, early morning practices and long hours of schoolwork make looking for help seem burdensome. Besides, when seeking help is viewed as another task to cross off of a neverending to-do list, it appears better to not even spend the energy writing it down.

Whenever the sports season begins, all athletes’ energy is put into perfecting their craft and bettering their team. These long hours spent on the court or in the field are not only physically taxing but mentally as well. Finding the balance between schoolwork and practicing is yet another skill that must be developed to preserve an athlete’s mental health. Senior soccer player Alex Macin says the extra stress of competing and completing schoolwork can be draining.

“There’s a lot of extra stress and mental drain that come with playing two games a week and representing your school,” Macin said. “Everything during the week becomes solely about soccer and getting my work done, and the free weekends I have become essential to recuperating and managing my time.”

Most teenagers already feel as if assignments and homework yield the high school experience a job title; students who involve themselves in sports, clubs and work only intensify their load. For senior Kennedy Hill who runs track, works at Lifetime Fitness, is a manager for the volleyball team and a member of Future Farmers of America (FFA) along with the National Honor Society (NHS), finding time for herself is something she puts off to stay on top of her work.

“I’ve noticed I am always tired and feeling drained, and I don’t have the same motivation that I did before to stay on top of my work,” Hill said. “There have definitely been many instances where I’ve felt overwhelmed but I have to keep pushing myself. And the time that I have for myself is when I am sleeping.”

According to Athletes for Hope, among professional athletes, data shows that up to 35% of elite athletes suffer from a mental health crisis which may manifest as stress, eating disorders, burnout, or depression and anxiety. This means that a little under half of all elite athletes struggle in some way, shape or form with their mental health. Mental health is evolving to become less taboo, and more athletes have become more comfortable sharing their stories and struggles with mental health. According to senior basketball player Elise Forcher, she’s experienced the stress that comes with taking on sports along with a rigorous academic curriculum.

“When I get really busy, I get really overwhelmed and that adds on to a lot of stress I have,” Forcher said. “And then I just start breaking down and I take it out on myself mentally. It just leads down a [downward] spiral I guess.”

Before being an athlete, the student aspect comes first. Success in the field cannot start without initially tackling work in the classroom. Since the work of student-athletes is demanded by so many factors, time management is crucial. Procrastinating work is often the route that many athletes run, however it only results in doubling the load. According to Macin, his academically competitive nature is what motivates him to get things done.

“Right now where I still have free time during the week, I really have a tough time with procrastination,” Macin said. “I really need time to decompress after a long school day so homework kinda gets put off. When I’m extremely busy during high school season, I definitely put things off less, solely out of necessity because I have a smaller period of time to do things in.”

However, everyone handles stress differently. For some, stress is utilized positively as fuel to motivate athletes to push even harder in their day-to-day activities. Not all stress is bad stress; when received in moderation, stress can drive work ethic and success. This is the case for senior wrestler Jaylen Bell.

“The more stress I have at school, the better I’m able to perform usually…But if I’m stressed from school, I usually just take it out in wrestling,” Bell said.

For some athletes, it’s convenient to dodge the chaos that they’re dealing with through their sport. From anger to hopelessness and everything in between, sports are an outlet to release all unwanted or overwhelming emotions.

“I think a lot of athletes do use their sport as a way to escape whatever they’re dealing with mentally,” Bell said. “I feel like it can push them more to be better in their sport. I feel like that’s what happened with me.”

Finding a healthy way to cope with the mental battles that arise is also necessary. The communion, structure and competitiveness found in sports are a common place for athletes to start to seek refuge and comfort for what they’re feeling.

“If the cause is worth it, I’m willing to suffer to see it succeed, and I think a lot of athletes feel the same way,” Macin said. “Having a good support system of coaches, teammates, friends, and family is definitely essential though.”

Above all, everything starts in the mind. A clear and healthy body first requires a clear and healthy mind. Taking a few steps back in order to feel refreshed is sometimes necessary, especially when it gets to the point of burnout or mental drain. Similar to physical injuries needing care, mental health deserves attention too.

“Most especially, talk about how you’re feeling and don’t hold it in,” Coordinating Counselor Shayla Rodriguez-Bell said. “This can be with teammates, friends, coach or a therapist. Sometimes we even need to take a break, maybe a weekend, maybe a couple of weeks, maybe even a season to recharge and clear our minds. It’s okay to prioritize our mental health so we can come back stronger and ready.”