Mental Health Concerns for Student-Athletes During Pandemic

Experts say it's not just taking away the sport, it's taking away a routine, time and energy management, and in some cases, support

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As back to school plans continue to change by the day, so are plans for student-athletes. Schools across North Texas keep adjusting plans and programs to keep people physically healthy. But there's a new concern that all the changes may be taking a different toll on athletes.

The canceling of sports is impacting student mental health.

An athlete's sport is often their identity. It essentially shapes who they are, and when it's taken away, experts say, you're not just taking away the sport, you're taking away a routine, time and energy management, and in some cases, support.

Kimberly Williams, a clinical social worker with Children's Health Andrews Institute for Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Plano, says young athletes are currently experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the unknown surrounding fall sports, especially after experiencing the cancellation of their spring seasons.

Unfortunately, Williams says not being able to play sports and the anxiety young athletes experience after, impacts their mental health.

“When that is taken away from them, they start to struggle with, 'who am I, what do I do, what now.' So the best thing that a parent or a coach or a family member can do is to be there for them, you know, to just be able to listen, and for the athlete to feel heard," Williams said. "I always say this, 'remember that you are not alone, it's not happening to you.' This is something the entire country is grappling with, and we are all really trying to do what's best for the athletes and their health, their individual families, and their communities."

Williams also says pay close attention to sleep hygiene, noticing if they're staying up later than usual, sleeping throughout the day, possibly skipping meals or withdrawing from friends. She also recommends that athletes maintain some form of structure, one that everyone can agree on. That's a schedule that has boundaries that she says will make kids feel like they have some control over their daily routines. 

"I think it's really important for student-athletes to remember that during these challenging times how we react during this adversity is character development, and character development will serve us, anyone on the field, or down the road in life, so taking the time to just invest in yourself, and you know who we are as people verse who we are as an athlete. Being able to do things that we weren't typically able to do with this free time, and spending that time well and spending that time taking care of ourselves," she said.

ONLINE: More tips on how to help athletes stay focused and positive as the pandemic affects sports seasons.

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