Young athletes need not be afraid to make their own mental health a priority, regardless of outside opinion.
I can’t believe it’s already August. It seems like the graduation ceremonies happened just a week or two ago, yet now we’re only 11 days away from going back to school.
It’ll be nice to get back into the groove with school sports happening every week. I’m sure a lot of you athletes feel the same way. As nice as summer vacation is, it’s good to have this excitement back again.
Maybe I’m a little inspired by the newfound focus on mental health the state is going for within the education system. Regardless of how well you think it’s being implemented (which we won’t go into here), I’m glad the attitude toward mental health has progressively gotten better since I was in high school and more people than ever are recognizing their problems are not things that should be hidden away from the world at all times. This is far from the first time I’ve decided to write an advice column, but I do have something different than usual to say to our athletes before we head into the 2019-20 school year.
Sure, this advice could apply for pretty much everyone. We all need a break sometimes and we shouldn’t be afraid to take it. I’m singling out athletes in this column, though, because their schedules are busier than that of most kids and they’re also at risk of having more people in their lives try to hammer home bad mental health habits (i.e. control freak coaches in addition to overzealous parents).
Playing fun athletic games for a living can be way harder on the mind than people realize. Then when you decide you’ve had enough, it’s not uncommon for folks to think less of you for walking away. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you have more control over your future than you may know.
It’s yours to shape as you see fit.
Making the best possible future for yourself often requires putting in a lot of hard work, but it’s not possible without your effort. People can also talk all they want about your future and their expectations for it, but if you know that’s not what you’ll be happiest doing, you will have the option to get out of it. Whatever you want to do on the playing field, in practice or wherever, make sure you’re doing it only for yourself and for the people in your life who care about you.
And if you do have the desire to succeed in sports — which I hope you do, biased as my opinion as a sportswriter may be — you need to make sure you’re not going through the motions out there at a great cost to yourself. Don’t forget to make some time for yourself every so often.
I’m not here to tell you to slack off of your studies or athletic duties and get lazy, but don’t get so caught up in trying to be perfect at everything that you lose sight of what it is to be a kid and have fun. The road you’ll travel constantly stressing yourself out working toward goals that have no real end in sight, goals that just seem more like extra objectives tacked on to your list than actual rewards you’ll get joy from, leads to a dead end. If you don’t ever let loose from time to time, you might wind yourself up so tight with other people’s expectations that you just suffocate.
It really sucks when you feel like you’ll never get out of your work cycle and start to take it to heart when people around you say you have to do it or else you’ll be a failure in life. Living in constant fear makes you more likely to resent whatever you’re doing, even if you used to love it. And if you tell someone they’re destined for failure often enough, no matter how you choose to frame it, they’ll eventually believe it. That’s how you go from anxiety to depression in a straight line.
You have to have some kind of escape to keep you sane, whatever that may be. If you don’t feel like you have something you can do to relieve the pressure, or if you feel like finding any downtime to even think about that is impossible, don’t be afraid to go talk to a coach, teacher, counselor or some other figure in your life whom you trust. They can help you.
You’re by far the most important person in your athletic career. Treat yourself the way you need to be treated and give yourself the best chance to win.