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  • Writer's pictureMatilde Pozzato

Student-Athletes Struggle to Handle School and Sports

Many university students face the challenge of reconciling their academic and sports careers and this can easily take a toll on their mental health.

According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of student-athletes suffering from mental health problems has doubled, encouraging more people to care about this phenomenon.

The Groninger has found that starting this fall, several universities in the United States are investing in mental health counseling, as well as organizing events to raise awareness of the pressure that is put on these students.

Soccer Field © Matilde Pozzato

However, students still experience difficulties in combining their academic commitments with their athletic ambitions.

“I feel the most overwhelmed when I have a big test or project because it is hard to make enough time to study,” says Emma Armstrong (21), a soccer player for the Women’s Soccer Club at Ohio State University.

Armstrong has soccer practice every day, which means the time she can dedicate to schoolwork is limited. “I usually force myself to take breaks,” she says. She then hangs out with friends and does other activities she enjoys to avoid burning out.

The newly found sensibility surrounding mental health in sports has paved the way for athletes to talk about their mental state. However, Armstrong thinks they often choose not to as they are too busy to sit down for these kinds of conversations and prefer not to take time away from school or training.

“I think that my friends and family are my biggest support system,” she says. On the other side, she thinks that her professors are not very understanding of the demands put on student-athletes.

Making Sacrifices

Students from other sports wrestle with the same pressure. “My struggle was to organize the school workload around ballet and not the other way around,” says Caterina Gambuti (22) a ballet dancer who performed in important recitals around Europe.

Ballet has always been her true passion. “When I was 8, my teacher asked me to attend classes with the 12-year-old group to make the most of my talent,” she explains.

While this opportunity was exciting, the expectation to get good grades in school while taking on more dance classes intensified and became harder to handle.

Gambuti performing in Sleeping Beauty in Moscow © Caterina Gambuti

To succeed in both school and sport, she had to cut back on the time spent with her peers. “I missed out on some normal childhood and teenage experiences.”

Differently from Armstrong, she never felt like she could talk about the pressure she was under. “At the time, no one was talking about mental health. If I wanted to keep dancing, handling ballet practice and school was my problem.”

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