Jake Roberts of Danbury was highly recruited to run track in college. He decided to run track at the University of Connecticut, but during his freshman year, his plans took a wrong turn.
He said he began to feel depressed, anxious and overwhelmed at having to perform well at both his meets and in the classroom. He said he “buckled under the pressure.”
After one year, he made a tough life decision and quit the track team to focus more on his journalism and political science studies.
This is not a unique situation. Many college athletes report experiencing a high level of stress, anxiety or depression. Twenty-one percent of male college athletes, and 27 percent of female college athletes report that they have experienced such a high level of depression that it was “difficult to function,” according to the NCAA. Thirty-two percent of male NCAA athletes report having overwhelming anxiety.
Maddie Barron, a staff psychologist and student-athlete specialist at UConn, works with the athletes through individual therapy and group training on mindfulness. She is also part of several multi-disciplinary teams that support the health and wellness of the players.
She helps students deal with everything from being away from their primary support system for the first time to overcoming injury and burnout to managing depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
She said that the athletic culture nationally has developed around the ideas of toughness, grit and a never-give-up attitude, but it is important that UConn communicates to all the athletes that “it is ok to not be ok.”
While it can be stressful, being a college athlete can also be positive, Rachel Alexander, UConn’s women’s field hockey player, said.
She said she has met most of her friends through playing sports and added that it takes her mind off of academics when she needs that.
At the same time, she said it can be stressful to have the pressure of performing well on the field, not getting all her school work done and managing her time. Despite all that, it is worth it, she said.
“If you love something, you can stick with it,” she said.
Ty’Mauri Streater is a student at Achievement First, Amistad High School, New Haven.