The California Lutheran University Department of Athletics along with the Office of Counseling and Psychological Services provide support, strategies and resources to student-athletes to maintain and care for their mental well-being.
Kecia Davis, director of health, wellness and performance in Cal Lutheran’s athletics department, said the partnership with CAPS is another way for student-athletes to feel supported in all aspects of their athletic careers.
»You face stressors. You’re trying to get good grades, you’re trying to get your degree, you’re trying to think about what you’re going to do with your career,” Davis said. “You’re trying to make sure you’re getting time to play, as well as juggling your schoolwork, your family, your relationships and everything else.”
Jackson White, a senior defensive end for the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen Football Team, said mental health plays a major role in athletic performance and the overall experience of a student-athlete.
“I would say a lot of it is mental,” White said, “whether it’s in the offseason, practicing, honing your craft, or whether it’s during the season where you have to stay focused and locked in.”
While White said mental health struggles can affect athletes and non-athletes everywhere, the causes of those problems can vary, he said. According to White, many student-athletes experience feelings of self-doubt about their athletic abilities, and the pressure of expectations can become difficult to manage.
“You have to be focused on the task at hand, you want to block out all the noise,” White said. “It’s so hard because you’re hearing this about the other team, you’re hearing this about your team, depending on how things go during the season.”
White said maintaining your mental well-being is just as important as any other type of physical athletic training, and when engaged, can give an athlete all the tools they need to be successful in their sport.
“It’s the same thing. Go lift your weights, and when you’re done, do your mental work,” White said. “You exercise your muscles, but you also have to exercise your mind.”
Men’s and Women’s Tennis Head Coach Mike Gennette said exercise and athletics are very important to maintaining overall well-being, and factors such as sleep, nutrition and fatigue monitoring can greatly affect an athlete’s mental health. In addition, Gennette said coaches and administrators in the athletics department can implement strategies for student-athletes to use in part of maintaining their mental well-being.
“I try to implement the things I’ve learned into my coaching,” Gennette said. “Things like relaxation techniques, breathing techniques and how to stay focused and not get distracted.”
Gennette said these practices can be used in other areas of life, not just athletics. White said the benefits of therapy, practicing mental health habits and devoting time to religious practices have been beneficial both on and off the court.
White said checking in on teammates can not only help boost team morale, but also make struggling players feel less alone.
While injuries are not unique to participating in athletics, Davis said there is a unique set of challenges for student-athletes who come with injuries.
“It’s always in the back of the mind for athletes,” Davis said. “Playing sports at any level, there is a risk of injury. That’s the nature of playing college sports. When that happens, we will do everything in our power to address that injury.”
Gennette said he has seen injuries affect more than just the physical health of a student-athlete, both during the recovery process and the return to play. He said it can have a profound effect on an athlete’s sense of identity, especially given how much time, effort and resources student-athletes put into their college athletic careers.
“Everybody always asks an athlete, ‘How’s the tennis going?’ ‘What’s the team like?’ and if you’re not a part of that anymore, there’s a big void left,” Gennette said.
Gennette said getting injured players involved in team activities is an important way to boost their morale and keep them interested in the sport. Davis said coaches work with injured athletes on what else they can do during recovery, as well as treating the injury itself.
Along with support from teammates, faculty support and general student counseling services, the CAPS office is currently holding classes for student-athletes to talk with clinician Ricardo Cornejo about mental health issues, according to an Instagram post by @clu_caps .
The Campus Awareness, Referral and Education Team is also available to students to make an anonymous report on behalf of students who may be experiencing mental health issues.
The resources provided speak to a shift in the overall conversation about mental health in relation to athletics, which Gennette said is a positive shift, especially considering the state of mental health in a broader perspective.
“The suicide rate and stuff is way higher than it’s ever been,” Gennette said. “It’s important for all of us to look out for each other and know that there is an organization at Cal Lutheran that you can talk to.”