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The Student Athlete Life

Almost all of us have experienced being a student at some point in our lives. There is no doubt that school can get stressful. Many schools acknowledge the presence of overly stressed students and have on site counselors to help maintain the emotional help of these teenagers. However, what the majority don’t realise, is the number of student athletes who are sacrificing their mental health in order to pursue their goals in both school and sports. Now, we already know that school by itself is stressful. Therefore, students who are associated with both school and a sport must be experiencing twice the amount of pressure and stress others are facing. These teens don’t just need the help of school counselors, but need the guidance from sports psychologists as well. Sure, there are certain cases where students get severely overwhelmed by school and need help, but these students are provided with the aid of school counselors. On the contrary, due to the addition of sports, student athletes are in need of sports psychologists when going through times of difficulty, because the scenario that led to the build up in stress has a different cause than regular students. Within sports, a certain amount of stress is created by a variety of factors and builds up depending on diverse situations. When these teens start to drown under the pressure and stress starts to build up, will start to perform poorly in both school and sports. Thus, resulting in them having a high possibly in losing motivation to keep going. Across the countries around the world, there are over eight million student athletes. Many of which, don’t have strategies of releasing stress and often give up their sport in sacrifice of school, or the other way around.

Project Introduction

My name is Anthea Wong and I am currently taking the course: Positive Psychology, on the Global Online Academy. For the Catalyst Conference Project, I chose to focus on the overlooked problem of stress in teenagers. More specifically, Student Athletes. My main motive behind this is being a Student Athlete. Over the course of the years of being a both a student and an athlete, my stress levels have fluctuated very much. When my stress started to weight down on me, it caused disruption in performance levels in both parts of my life. The focal point of my project is to raise awareness for the Student Athletes who are quietly suffering from stress and to guide them in turning stress into a growth mindset to use to their advantage instead. My goal is to help project the problem of struggling student athletes to the outside population so they can embrace these teenagers with more support. Additionally, I will be design a out of practice session to help athletes improve their performance by looking out for the little things instead. My method for this will be mainly creating a formatted journal for student athletes to use in both school and sports so they can release stress as well as have a growth mindset while working towards their goals.

Personal Experience

China Cup Swimming 2018

Hi, my name is Anthea Wong and I am currently taking the course: Positive Psychology, on the Global Online Academy. For the Catalyst Conference Project, I chose to focus on the overlooked problem of stress in teenages. More specifically, Student Athletes. My main motive behind this was being a Student Athlete. Over the course of the years of being a both a student and an athlete, my stress levels have fluctuated very much, causing disruption

Being both a student and a swimmer, I definitely understand first hand, the obstacles student athletes go through on a regular basis. Sixth grade was the first year where I got into the student athlete lifestyle. Compared to now, I would describe that year as fun, experiential, and easy. When I moved into the eighth grade, I began going through a roller coaster of emotions everyday. From going back and forth between school and practices, I barely got enough sleep. It was difficult trying to balance high quality practices with near perfection school assignments. There was a few months where both my performance level in school and swimming started to dwindle. At that point, I felt like I had lost my mind. Through those weeks, I encountered numerous defeats and setbacks that honestly made me think I could never get back up again. My confidence and motivation to keep going, went from a hundred to zero. It was like someone had put out the fire that was burning inside of me. After feeling overwhelmed and experiencing breakdowns almost every practice, I reached out to my parents and they provided me with a sports psychologist. With their assistance, I was able to get back on track with my student athlete career.

From my personal struggle with stress from the student athlete life, I believe that there are several ways where we can administer the stress level of these teenagers and provide them with resources that will benefit them in performance in both aspects of their lives, using exercises focusing on the growth mindset and relaxation.

Behind the Scenes of Stress

Stress is essentially one of the many responses the human body has. It can be constructed by both positive and negative experiences, however, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The National Institute of Mental Health interprets stress as “the brain’s response to any demand”. When stressed, adrenaline is released and causes an increase in physical strength and provides the muscles in the body with oxygen they need. This is an example for a case in which stress can be helpful. However, as the stress level increases, its effects on the body become more severe and has a high chance of harming the teen. Stress can be categorized into three categories: acute, episodic acute, and chronic acute. Acute and episodic acute stress are considered to be mild forms of stress, they do not put one’s physical health at much risk. Acute stress is the most common form of stress that everyone experiences at some point in their lives. It is caused by stress relating to future events and can be both positive and negative. There isn’t anything to worry about when experiencing this type of stress because it passes as time goes on. episodic acute stress occurs more frequently and pops up in a pattern. This form of stress is caused by a person’s surroundings, they often worry an feel anxious about what is going on around them. If someone has a type A personality which is described to be more competitive, aggressive, highly aware etc. They will be more likely to suffer from this but its not extremely inimical. If however it does get worst, seeking for professional help is highly recommended. Out of the three types of stress, chronic Acute stress is viewed as the highest level in severity of stress. It is the result of what happens when someone constantly goes through stressful situations. While acute and episodic acute can be simply regarded as reactions, chronic acute stress can cause significant harm to the body’s function and the brain. As stated by the Harvard Health Publications of Harvard Medical School, “when someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus”. They mention that “this area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.”

The physical changes from stress are caused by the fight or flight response mentioned above. When someone is in a stressful situation, their body is flooded with adrenaline. Since the body is flooded with adrenaline, people do tend to perform better when they are lightly stressed.

Chronic stress is the most intense type of stress that is diagnosed and is the worst case scenario to anybody because it affects the function of the brain and body. When stressed the hormone cortisol is released to replace the amount of energy that is lost in the body during its fight or flight response. The body will return to stasis when the stressful event is over and the cortisol levels drop. Stress isn’t a big deal, however the reason why chronic stress is so dangerous is that it causes the build up of the cortisol hormone in the brain, which can result in long term effects. This is why, it is important to get help early on because chronic stress leads to health problems/complications overtime. Cortisol has many functions and is part of the natural process in the human brain. This hormone helps regulate blood sugar levels in the cells of our bodies and has utility value in the hippocampus area of the brain. The hippocampus is where memories are stored and processed. During acute and episodic acute stress episodes, the brain is capable of producing and releasing cortisol at similar rates. However, when a person experiences chronic stress, their body produces cortisol at such a high volume that it has an inability to release all of it. High levels of cortisol in the brain will affect the normal functioning of the brain. Synapse regulations will be disrupted as well due to high levels of cortisol, which is vital to forming memories. It can cause the person to be more distant and have a lack of motivation to be social. The high level of this hormone can also kill brain cells and be reduce the size of the brain. The prefrontal cortex part of the brain is the area that is accountable for learning and memory is subjected to shrinking due to the cortisol level. Simultaneously, high cortisol level largens the amygdala, causing the individual to be more sensitive to stress. It can cause an intense cycle where the brain is put in a constant flight or fight response.

Due to all the dangers that come along with someone spiraling down the path of chronic stress, it is important for not only student athletes to reach out for help, it is also important for parents, coaches, teachers and friends to reach out to them.

Bell Wong (father of two student athletes)

Physically, chronic stress also does a ton on the body. There is an increase risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. The natural order of other bodily functions start to operate abnormally too, such as the digestive, excretory and reproductive system. It also puts the body at a high risk for other illnesses as it weakens the immune system. The neural pathways between the hippocampus and the amygdala are damaged when overly stressed. The reforming and regeneration of these connections are possible. Exercising, being social, and finding a goal in life helps with avoiding these problems. According to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the reversibility of the results of stress has a strong positive correlation of the age of an individual. Which is why, by learning how to cope with the issue from a young age, we are eliminating the possibilities of these teens from suffering from chronic stress in their future.

Statistics

In order to dig deeper into finding the connection between stress and student athletes, I created a survey for student athletes in my school to take.

https://surveyhero.com/c/c885f090

Within the survey, I asked the student athletes to rate their stress levels, identify where they think their stress comes from, and questioned about their knowledge on the growth mindset. Here are the overall takeaways from the survey. Though most of what I predicted was shown in the results, what was the most surprising was the amount of displeasure that was shown through the words of the student athletes.

I do believe that the stress of student athletes are overlooked because people often disregard the hard work and time we put into training. On top of that, we need to balance school, sleep, and extracurriculars as well as sports, but not many teachers think of that. For example, when students go to competitions and miss assignments, they often have a hard time catching up afterwards because teachers don’t really treat them differently.

Anonymous Student Athlete

I don’t think that people are fully aware of the extreme stress that student athletes face. My teachers and peers often do not take into account how much time and effort I put into my sports and expect me to spend an equal amount of time doing school work as those not doing sports. In fact student athletes are expected to put in more time and effort and be even better students.

Anonymous Student Athlete

People assume that if someone has the time to be an athlete or even go to the gym, they don’t have stress or not as much compared to others.

Anonymous Student Athlete

Over the last few years I do believe that people have become aware of the high stress levels worth students as a whole, but athletes are often not the focus. This I believe is mostly because several people bypass the idea with the though that doing sports helps you perform better in school because you are keeping your body active, which though may work at time the reality is that your often extremely tired when you get home to do schoolwork and therefore find it hard to focus.

Anonymous Student Athlete

People are not aware mainly because people who succeed and don’t crush under pressure get their stories out.

Anonymous Student Athlete

Due to the stereotypical thoughts about student athletes in the community people live in, there are countless student athletes who feel pressured to keep quiet about their struggles with stress. It is like they are expected to keep quite about the setbacks and stress they go to, or they will be thought of as weak and unfit to be an athlete.

Across the 24 student athletes who took this survey, there representative athletes from eight different sports: volleyball, swimming, rugby, soccer, track and field, cross country, ice skating and basketball. The age range was from 13 years old to 18 years old. The data varied with athletes in different levels. Most were student athletes who performed at a varsity level, representing the school. There were also a handful of athletes who are considered to be at a quite professional stage of their athlete career. Representing their country and even going to world championships. However, no matter the sport, age, or level of competitiveness of the student athlete, they all identified as having stress.

Column Chart of Student Athlete Stress Levels

When asked to rate their stress level from a scale of zero (-100) to a hundred (100), more than 80% of the student athletes reported to be experiencing levels of stress. 2 of which who disclose in being intently stressed.

Bar Chart of Student Athlete Responses to Stress

After identifying the amount of stress student athletes go through, I questioned about how they coped with the problem. In this question, they were able to pick more than one response. Many of them claimed to keep the problem to themselves and only 33% of them reach out for help. This shows that when student athletes are facing stress, they go through it alone and don’t often talk about it. Student athletes are known to be more independent and self reliant that the average teenager, which is why it makes sense for them to not want help when facing a struggle like stress. However, no matter how tuff they think they are, at some point, stress is going to push them over the edge. To prevent that from happening and keeping these student athletes at a productive stage, de-stressing activities and growth mindset school plus training logs are necessary.

Column Chart of How Much Impact Student Athletes think Stress has on their Mental Health

According to the data, almost half of the student athletes who were surveyed think that stress has a significant impact on their mental health. Although, 40% may not seem like a lot. We should not focus on the number of student athletes who are not overly affected by stress, but instead, should keep our eyes out for the large handle of teens who are suffering from stress. For these student athletes to overcome the obstacles that come with stress, they cannot just continue to perform badly, ignore it, or sleep on the problem. What they need is a solution to transform the stress from setbacks into something more positive. To do so, these student athletes need to be familiar with the positive psychology concept of the growth mindset. In the survey, I inquired about their knowledge about the growth mindset and what they responded with was quite interesting.

To be honest I’m not 100% sure what this means.

Anonymous Student Athlete

I feel like although it might help, it doesn’t really effective solve the problem, it only acknowledges it.

Anonymous Student Athlete

Works fine as long as it’s not forced on to people.

Anonymous Student Athlete

I feel like as you get stressed more and more it could actually make you more mature.

Anonymous Student Athlete

The growth mindset is essential for learning in a classroom and training for a competition, because hard work, effort and persistence only get you so far.

Anonymous Student Athlete

I think it’s definitely really important to have a growth mindset in order to keep good, despite past failures however – it also takes time to develop a growth mindset and train yourself how to look at things and see an opportunity for growth rather than always seeing failure as bad which is what many of us are inclined to do.

Anonymous Student Athlete

It is clear that the large majority of the 24 student athletes surveyed have little to no clue about what the growth mindset is. Some may be confused with the concept while others are in disbelief of its effectiveness on their lives. Therefore, these student athletes need to be educated about the growth mindset and should be guided towards developing a growth mindset by doing a simple task each day. A simple and beneficial activity is creating reflective logs each day. The target of this exercise it to help the student athletes develop a growth mindset using events they experience day to day. By doing so, they will not only be able to be more productive when encountering setbacks, they will also be able to decrease they amount of stress they experience due to complications.

What is Growth Mindset?

When we talk about mindset, we are referring to someone’s attitude towards a situation. There are 15 different types of mindsets people can have. The two that are the most common in student athletes are the fixed and growth mindset. The fixed mindset is when a person is in belief that their skill cannot be improved through practice and is set permanently. On the contrary, the growth mindset ideates that any skill can be improved upon through training. To develop a growth mindset, one must think of failure as a chance to learn and get better. They should think of obstacles as learning experiences that enable us to experiment with and solve problems. Our mindset influences everything, from how we look at things to how we react to situations. Student athletes who have a growth mindset are focused on the journey of continual improvement and like to take risks to refine themselves through unconventional ways. When we struggle, the neurons in our brain form connections with other neurons. The more we struggle, the more neuron connections are made. What happens in this process is that we are learning and getting stronger from our mistakes and practices, thus allow us to improve at the skill we are doing. With a growth mindset, student athletes celebrate the process of growing from setbacks. They do not go for the easier path so they succeed, but instead constantly challenge theirselves so they make progress. These teens put maximum effort in both school and sports is they can achieve the goals they have set for themselves. The growth mindset is a vital trait of being a student athlete, without it, stress from failure will take over and will eventually wear down the mind.

Reflective Logs

To guide these student athletes into developing a growth mindset, I have created sample reflective logs templates for both parts of their lives. Of course, they are welcome to construct their own using a favorable notebook. However, the questions different components that were put together in the two examples were designed to trigger the growth mindset thinking within the student athletes.

It is advised for the student athletes to complete the sports journal on a daily basis whenever they have training. In the long term, they will be able to monitor their growth over time by writing down what they’ve learned everyday. The process of reflecting on the training and the physical feeling and thought that come with it, allow the athletes to be more mindful of what they have achieved. Additionally, recording down the setbacks or obstacles they’ve encountered will assist them in giving a thought in what to work on next. Likewise, when coming in contact with difficulty in school, the first reflective log template will guide them through a contemplation process. The student athlete will then be able to pause and asses the situation. If the reflection process is skipped, the teenagers will instinctually move on to their next task without identifying the problem and stress about the obstacle instead. Since when struggling, people often do not feel at ease, the stress of the student athlete will continue to pile until they have a outburst at some point. Tolerating stress to that extent is not beneficial to the mental health of student athletes, therefore, they should take advantage of the reflective log practice as well as de-stressing methods of their choice.

Stress Relief Methods

Stress can be dealt with by using countless different positive psychology methods. Everyone has their own preferability to what stress releasing they like to use. Below, I have liked two websites that offer many guides to a large diversity of techniques that help with releasing stress, and coping with anxiety and depression.

Pacifica

Calm

Both platforms offer apps for apple and android devices. Since they are created by people with much more experience than myself, it is safe to say that these methods are extremely effective and reliable for student athletes.

Good Health & Well Being

By focusing on the mental health of student athletes, we are contributing towards the United Nations third sustainable development goal of good health and well being. According to the World Health Organization, as part of the UN’s approach towards the goal, they plan to “promote mental health and well-being”. My pitch to the situation of stress and student athletes also involves opening up the topic to the unknown so they are more understanding of the problem these teenagers are facing. Like the United Nations’ proposition, I am promoting the situation to help speak for these student athletes who, for some reason, think they should be silent because others will not understand. Quoted from an article by The University Star: “Timothy Neal, assistant athletic director for sports medicine at Syracuse University, acknowledged that student-athletes ‘have stressors and expectations of them unlike the other students that could either trigger a psychological concern or exacerbate an existing mental health issue'”. With the most severe cases of extreme stress result in the suicide of student athletes, countless professionals have taken into account that there is no use of focusing on the lives that were taken. They believe that the action to take moving forward is to prevent the rate of suicide from increasing, and hopefully decrease by time.

Spread the Word

What are your thoughts?

Share what you think about the student athlete life and the affects of stress with these teenagers on this padlet.

https://padlet.com/anthea_wong/thestudentathletelife

Bibliography

Bernstein, Rebecca. “The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain.” Touro University WorldWide, 4 Jan. 2019, www.tuw.edu/health/how-stress-affects-the-brain/.

Cohen, Melissa. “Student Stress & Anxiety Guide.” LearnPsychology.org, LearnPsychology.org, 5 Apr. 2019, www.learnpsychology.org/student-stress-anxiety-guide/.

Duffek, Jaimie. “When Stress Is Good for Student-Athletes and When It’s Not.” USA TODAY High School Sports, USA Today High School Sports, 15 Nov. 2017, usatodayhss.com/2017/when-stress-is-good-for-student-athletes-and-when-its-not.

Dweck, Carol. “What Having a ‘Growth Mindset’ Actually Means.” Harvard Business Review, 13 Jan. 2016, hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means.

Edison, Jaden. “The Issue of Mental Illness amongst Student-Athletes.” The University Star. Defending the 1st Amendment since 1911., 24 Mar. 2018, star.txstate.edu/2018/03/the-issue-of-mental-illness-amongst-student-athletes/.

Mazziotta, Julie. “Teen Stress Is on the Rise: Why It’s a Major Problem, and How You Can Help.” PEOPLE.com, 14 May 2018, people.com/health/teen-stress-rising-what-to-do/.

Nations, United. “Goal 3 .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform.” United Nations, United Nations, 2018, sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg3.

Smith, Kathleen. “6 Common Triggers of Teen Stress.” PsyCom.net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986, 25 Nov. 2018, www.psycom.net/common-triggers-teen-stress/.

“Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 25 Aug. 2017, www.who.int/mental_health/suicide-prevention/SDGs/en/.

Villanueva, Sara. “Teenage Stress.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 8 Dec. 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-parent-teen/201512/teenage-stress.

Western, Dan. “15 Different Types of Mindsets People Have.” Wealthy Gorilla, 31 Jan. 2019, wealthygorilla.com/15-different-types-mindsets-people/.

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COMMENTS: 17
  1. April 25, 2019 by Hurley Reply

    Great work here, Anthea. Lots of good research.

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Thanks Mr. Hurley!

  2. April 26, 2019 by Tsering.Yangchen Reply

    I loved the many ideas that you included in your presentation and the amount of research that was put into it. I’m also a swimmer and I definitely can relate to you about the amount of stress that juggling both school and swim can produce. Great job!

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Thank you! Hope these stress relieving methods can help!

  3. April 26, 2019 by William.Porto Reply

    I thought your presentation was super interesting, great job! I’m also a student athlete and have always wondered if kids at different high schools also have to work to balance school and athletics. It can definitely get stressful.

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Glad you enjoyed it. I think that depending on the school environment and sport the student athlete is in, the stress level can vary. However, it definitely has to with the way he or she handles the stress as well.

  4. April 26, 2019 by Lauren Silver Reply

    Great work! I play a lot of sports so I can definitely relate to the issues you discuss here. I especially loved how you documented the growth mindset and added so many components of information such as data, an interview, and a video. Amazing!

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Thank you!

  5. April 27, 2019 by Brian.Germain Reply

    Anthea, I appreciate the focus on a part of the student population experiencing extra stress in their daily lives, which according to your data looks like they feel they have no outlet for. What do you think the responsibility of the coach and school/sponsoring organization in promoting the health and wellness of their student athletes? The reflective journaling could be empowering for many, but do you think this should be a program requirement that teams implement from the top-down?

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Hi Mr. Germain! I think that there could be several different ways coaches, schools and sponsoring organizations can react to the situation of stress and student athletes. Examples include better coach and athlete relationship, schools understanding absences for competition or training, and lots of support from people around them when going through tough days. A lot of these methods could work for a variety of different student athletes, however I feel that the effectiveness of it may very depending on what suits the student athlete the most. Some teams do this already but, I highly recommend scheduled sessions with a sports psychologist as a team for everyone to be more mindful of how they are feeling at the moment. From personal experience, it helps in a lot of different ways such as releasing stress, staying motivated and being more resilient.

  6. April 27, 2019 by Connor.Weselman Reply

    This is a great presentation. Good job! I am a very stressed student athlete myself, with 4 sports and a hard school. This presents great ways to relieve stress. Thanks!

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Thanks! Happy to help!

  7. April 27, 2019 by Julia Cohon Reply

    Hi Anthea! I think that your topic is very interesting and one that many students including myself can relate to. Do you think that high school athletes are prepared for college athletics? Do you think athletes should be treated differently in their education?

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Hi Julia! I think that after experiencing being a student athlete in high school, most people will be prepared for college athletics mostly because in many colleges sports teams receive a lot of support both mentally and psychically. After going through four years of high school with limited stress relieving ways and support, when going off to college, many student athletes may feel less overwhelmed because of all the help surrounding them. Personally I think that athletes should receive the same education as other students, content wise. However, I feel that the way they receive their education should be different. Due to the countless training hours and overseas competitions, I believe that student athletes should be given a source which they can learn from on the go. This way when they miss school for long periods of time due to sports, they wouldn’t feel stressed about catching up because of unlearned material.

  8. April 28, 2019 by Angelina Josephine Kline Reply

    I really enjoyed reading your presentation and research, prior to reading I had no knowledge of sports psychology. To be honest, as a long time student athlete, I haven’t found major stress from the experiences. Personally, I have found sports therapeutic and relieving my stress that comes from school. This is why I think I learned a lot from your work, really good work!

    • April 29, 2019 by Anthea Wong Reply

      Thanks! I’m thrilled that you were able to learn more about how psychology is related to the field of sports. I think its great that sports is a therapeutic and relieves stress you get from school.

  9. May 03, 2019 by Susanna Reply

    I really loved the focus of your presentation! I think the struggles of student athletes is a subject that too frequently goes unnoticed. I love how personalized you made your presentation, both by introducing your own experiences, and then by including the quotes and charts from the student body at your school. Where do you think the acknowledgement of student athletes looks to be heading from here?

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