Teenagers, especially those in high school, have a sport they eat, sleep, breathe and repeat daily, but living in a global pandemic has changed that in a negative way. Teenagers already have constant mental health struggles, and now, since their outlets-those sports they eat, sleep, and breathe– are gone from them, the number of those struggling has skyrocketed. In a survey I conducted from our own St. Edward student-athletes, one student stated, “Sports help me get out of my emotions.” According to the CDC, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been associated with mental health challenges. It is stated these challenges are related to the morbidity and mortality caused by the disease and to the mitigation activities, including, but not limited to, the impact of social distancing and stay-at-home orders. Many students from my survey results rated their mental health at the beginning of the school year around or below a 3-star rating out of 5, whereas now, towards the stretch of the end of the year, even lower because of having to struggle with the new learning methods and the unknown behind their sports season.
Sports are often looked upon as an “outlet” for teenage students where they can have a natural stress relief and a team to rely on. When asked in the survey conducted, “How do you feel your sport(s) help you beyond the enjoyment of the game?” students’ responses included such things as, “It ([their sport]) helps me escape from schoolwork” and “Playing sports help me let loose and relax.” Students’ answers to these questions indicate that without these sports, students are more stressed and can even be seen struggling in the classroom to focus since they no longer have anything to look forward to after their day. During this global pandemic, many sports seasons have either been canceled, moved, or completed at the usual time. Having sports seasons moved has affected students’ grades, overall mental health, and even future plans after high school. Students mainly focus on their grades during their sports season due to being eligible eligibility requirements, and with the pandemic, students have seen their grades drop. In the survey I conducted, many students agreed that their sport(s) made them who they are, allowed them to escape from reality for a short period of time, have something to look forward to, connect with other teammates, and even teach them life lessons.
Although IHSA has made numerous statements, and sports seasons are starting again, slowly, students may still struggle since their sport may now only be half of a normal season. Student-athletes may now have even more pressure than normal when performing their sport because most sports, excluding football, have around 7 practice dates before their first game. The IDHP, Illinois Department of Public Health, ranked sports risked from higher to lower, and even includes moderate for the risk of spreading COVID-19. The IHSA has even removed some state playoffs for certain sports and has cut seasons as short as around one month. As sports start back, student-athletes should do everything in their power to still stay as healthy as they can by continuing to wear a mask, social distancing, and, most importantly, taking some time to reflect on your mental health by relaxing, getting enough sleep, and having good time management.