Winning the Mental Game

Emily Solomon, Staff Reporter

The importance of mental health has become increasingly known, especially on college campuses where stress levels are arguably at their highest. Every student knows and understands the struggle of trying to balance school, sleep, social life, extracurriculars, jobs and so much else. Especially at Whitman, where it’s the norm to be involved in a million different things, mental health can be one of those easily overlooked factors.

Being a college athlete just adds another bullet point to the already full list of activities that every college student has to juggle. Not only do athletes have to maintain incredible time management skills in order to handle daily three hour practices, but they also have to deal with the mental drain that comes with physical fatigue. They have to play the mental game, which, at times, is just as tiring as the physical game.

Junior basketball player Mady Burdett knows more than a thing or two about mental health and the struggle of maintaining it during basketball season.

“Mental health is so important as an athlete because it is crucial to be aware of how you are feeling mentally if you want to be the best person and athlete you can possibly be,” Burdett shared. “I feel like a lot of athletes, myself included, feel pressure to perform a certain way so unraveling your state of mind and being aware of that mental state will help ease those pressures.”

Burdett worked with a mentor during high school who helped her gain more knowledge about mental health and how to properly maintain it, especially during winter when basketball pressures kick in.

Sophomore lacrosse player Hannah Miller stresses mental health as just as important, if not more important, than school at times.

“I sometimes am not able to put enough time into studying or classes because I am focused on staying healthy and getting enough sleep,” Miller said. “I also make sure to take time out of my schedule to spend time with my friends outside of my team to maintain my mental health during season.”

While Miller isn’t advocating to focus more on athletics than academics, she points out the importance of sleep and self-care and their effects on both. Mental health for athletes is extremely important to allow for peak performance athletically, as well as strong emotional health off the court/field.

“It is hard to put all of your focus on the sport if you are too stressed during season,” Miller said. “Having an off day definitely shows during practice and during games.”

First-year volleyball player Tate Cadang values allowing herself physical rest during season in order to maintain mental health.

“I maintain mental health during season by taking time to decompress, not just mentally, but physically as well,” Cadang explained. “During that time, I try to focus on what is best for my mind and body which could even mean, God forbid, a break from homework.”

It is especially important to win the mental game as a student-athlete, when you have to juggle all the responsibilities of a regular student plus the physical strain of your sport. And sometimes, the mental aspect of the sport takes over and overshadows the mental aspect of everything else.

“Sometimes I spend so much time worry about what’s coming up next with volleyball that I let my anxiety about school build up until I hit a breaking point,” Cadang said. “Mental health is so important because it affects not only my performance on the court, but the way I go about my daily life and the social aspect of my college experience.”

Taking time for yourself and not allowing yourself to be defined by your sport is a common theme for preserving mental health. A reminder to all student-athletes: how you rest and recover mentally should be even more of a priority than athletic and academic performance. If you’re not winning the mental game, you can’t win the actual game.

As Burdett pointed out, “You have to accept that what is, is, and what isn’t, isn’t. And it be like that sometimes.”