Following the cancellation of the 2020 spring racing season, row2k solicited the collegiate coaching community to engage in a variety of high-level topics within the profession. We submitted over sixty questions across a dozen topics and thank the coaches and staffs that found time to contribute their thoughts during this stressful time.
This week we focus on the topic of Mental Health with the following questions:
HAVE YOU NOTICED A CHANGE IN THE PREVALENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, AND DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS ON TO WHY?
JIM TUCCI - SKIDMORE I have been coaching for forty years. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve noticed an appreciable increase in the number of student athletes who express general anxiety, or a feeling of being “overwhelmed.” My observations lead me to believe that they are over-processed and have too much on their plates. Moreover, they don’t take time in the day to quiet their minds. We devote considerable time talking about and practicing emotional self-management, such as reframing a “crisis” as a “challenge.” We regularly practice pre-row mindfulness training. Most importantly, we talk about how to apply this mindset to daily life.
SANDRA CHU – WILLIAM SMITH Whether the prevalence of mental health issues has increased or simply our diagnosis of them probably does not matter. But, yes—I do feel that our students come into college with a greater familiarity and lived experiences with issues that impede mental wellness. If we can believe the literature, many folks in higher ed with more advanced degrees than I have say that the trend is that students are coming into college underprepared and over-parented. When we look at the most recent classes of students, it seems like we are doing a lot more instruction in how to manage day-to-day experiences such as conflict resolution, priority setting, and communication. Many students are concerned with making mistakes in all areas of their lives and this curtails their ability to take risks and act independently.
BRIAN PERKINS – TEMPLE MEN I would not say there is any change in the amount of mental health issues. However, they are largely becoming destigmatized and this helps us work with athletes who are experiencing a real issue that impedes their health or even helps them get through something like the loss of a pet. These are painful experiences the first time anyone encounters them; we should not lose sight of that.
CAMPBELL WOODS – MARIST MEN I think that the internet and the quantity of information available, as well as the presence of so many types of social media has had a dramatic effect on athletes and the way they view themselves. One need only look at the way race results are recorded. It wasn’t long ago that you left a head race without even knowing who had won and now you expect to see the times posted within minutes of its completion. Internet rankings tend to sort teams to the point that the athletes often feel like the result is conclusive before the race even takes place.
On a personal level, athletes are confronted by a vast array of information showing them how far they have yet to go and you don’t see a whole lot of people posting their worst erg pieces on Reddit. With everyone only ever presenting their best performances, happiest moments, and ideal image to the world it sometimes feels like the only person struggling is you. It’s funny how being so connected can make you feel so alone!
BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN I think mental health challenges continue to grow, yes. Research has shown pretty clearly that social media plays a huge part in that, so that’s definitely one factor. I think, as young people, it’s easy for them to get caught up comparing their real life to someone else’s social media life; in essence, thinking that everyone else is succeeding and that they are the only ones struggling. I do also think that this generation, as part of the “participation trophy” era, may not have been as well equipped (not necessarily through any fault of their own) to handle failure and setbacks.
JENN LANGZETTEL – DUQUESNE WOMEN There has definitely been an increase in mental health issues affecting our student-athletes in just the last 4 years alone. They have more pressure put on them (often by themselves, but sometimes by parents) to succeed in everything and ensure that they can acquire a good job following graduation. Social media has escalated that pressure with a need for them to look like they are doing just as well as if not better than their peers.
WHAT TYPE OF SUPPORT DOES YOUR ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT PROVIDE FOR STUDENT ATHLETES MENTAL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING?
JENN LANGZETTEL – DUQUESNE WOMEN We have a lot of support for mental health issues and have taken the topic very seriously. Through contracts with third parties we can provide a large amount of support for mental health struggles.
CAMPBELL WOODS – MARIST MEN Almost every college has fantastic groups of counselors and people who are available to chat with students. Aside of the support of coaches, teammates, administrators, and councilors, Marist recently added a “RADAR” program to identify specific student athletes who might be going through some specific struggles and provide them the support they need.
BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN On a personal level, I have a passion for mental health, so I spend a good amount of time speaking to our athletes on that topic and stressing my availability to them. The school also offers counseling for any student that requests is.
SANDRA CHU – WILLIAM SMITH Our department has two sport psychology consultants working with our teams and individuals. All coaches are also connected with a resource in our counseling center and have access to staff trainings that help us help students.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO STAY CONNECTED TO THE COLLEGE AGE DEMOGRAPHIC AS THE GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES INCREASE?
SANDRA CHU – WILLIAM SMITH I ask questions and admit that I am ignorant in many areas and experiences that they have. I listen to podcasts, read books, read articles, speak with colleagues, professors, parents and students. I have found that asking and listening to the people and resources around me have helped me not only stay connected but also give me strategies to be a better coach.
JOHN BOYD – IONA These days I text with my athletes more than ever.
BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN I’m relatively young for a coach, which helps. I also have 6 younger siblings, including one in college now and two not yet in college. So, they keep me relatively in-the-know! Mostly, I take time to just chat with my rowers about non-rowing topics whenever possible (during stretching, carrying down oars, loading the trailer, etc.), just to find out what’s important to them.
JENN LANGZETTEL – DUQUESNE WOMEN Talk to them honestly and talk to those that are somewhere in the middle of me and them age wise. This allows for me to learn what they are thinking, what are they working to achieve, what are they worried about.
CAMPBELL WOODS – MARIST MEN Honestly, the best way to hone in is to chat with the athletes at all levels on the team when I can and be emotionally available. Marist is lucky to have a boathouse right on campus and so I hang around for about an hour after practice each day and shoot the breeze with the athletes who are around.