While an athlete’s physicality may be what gets them to the top, such as LeBron James in the NBA, it’s mentality that pushes them to strive for more. At the same time though, that mentality could be an athlete’s downfall.
After James and the Miami Heat lost in the 2011 NBA Championships to the Dallas Mavericks, James reportedly went into a deep depression, and he barely came out of his room for nearly a month following the loss. Basketball was and still is his life, and when he infamously announced he was going to Miami to win “Not one, not two, not three” championships, he was expected to do just that. So when the Heat fell short of that first championship he not only let himself down, but he let his teammates, his fans, and for that matter the entire city of Miami down. That pressure got the best of him and he secluded himself off from the rest of the world. It’s that sort of pressure plenty of other athletes deal with on a regular basis, though maybe not to the same extent.
Athletes don’t seem like they are given a lot of leeway when it comes to mental health. As someone progresses to higher levels of their respective sport it’s assumed they are becoming tougher, not only physically but mentally as well. Little things like a bad game wouldn’t have too much of an effect on someone in the third or fourth grade, but a bad game to a junior in high school could mean the end of the world. The stakes rise with each level of the competition, so athletes may think they are losing out on other opportunities, such as a college scholarship or a future in their respective professional sport.
Athletes Connected was created by the University of Michigan. It is a program that “increase[s] awareness of mental health issues, reduce[s] the stigma of help-seeking, and promote[s] positive coping skills among student athletes,” according to its website. Part of the program entails three main elements. The first has student athletes at Michigan watch videos that help destigmatize a lot of the judgments associated with mental health. The second element includes informational presentations. The third element includes drop-in support groups. According to an article on Vice, those videos are working and over 90 percent of student athletes who watched said they were relevant.
Michigan has devoted a lot of time and effort in looking into the well-being of their students and student-athletes. According to Michigan’s school of public health, one in three college students will have symptoms of depression, anxiety or something similar, but just 30 percent of students ask for help. When student athletes suffer from these symptoms, only 10 percent ask for help.
James would not have gotten through that tough time in his life had it not been for the support system around him. While athletes may feel as though they are responsible for getting better, it is important to rely on the people they surround themselves with. It can be a team effort both on and off the court … or field … or diamond.
The NCAA states, “Depression in some student-athletes [could] be related to performance failure,” and this all too often seems to be the case. Again, having people to talk to, and having people around can help an athlete make it through a tough time. Athletes Connected features former Wolverine athletes who had their own mental health struggles, and that’s important because it shows that they aren’t alone.
While this project is Michigan based, it has “the goal of eventually disseminating the model beyond the athletic campus to all U-M students, as well as other campuses nationwide.”
Mental health isn’t something to be overlooked and it certainly isn’t something to be pushed aside; athletes should have somewhat of a safe space extended to them. In the end it’s that mentality that really does make a person want to be successful in whatever they are pursuing, so in addition to taking care of their body, they should take care of their mind too.