NCAA Researcher Lydia Bell discusses implications of stress on student-athletes

By Isabel Paris || Campus Life Editor

Photo courtesy of fandm.edu

This week’s common hour discussed the importance and the unspoken aspects of mental health regarding student-athletes. Lydia Bell, an associate director of research at the NCAA headquarters, discussed her recent research on the mental health of student-athletes in comparison to non-athletes as well as their willingness to share their concerns. Her talk was titled “Optimizing Performance: Using Data to Maximize Student-Athlete Wellness,” and she used many different forms of data that explored the varying ways in which athletes deal with pressures from all around them. She began with a poll to keep the audience engaged, and she used different questions in order to either shock or reinforce the ideas that were already assumed with the pressures that student-athletes face today. 

Bell began with the fact that students enter college already feeling overwhelmed. In fact, 39% of students are already stressed when they first come to college by all of the possible things that they will have to do. Bell explained that this type of research has been going since 1986, and every year more and more students enter college stressed. However, Bell emphasizes that while most students are stressed, student-athletes are less likely to report mental health concerns than normal students. She expanded on the idea that maybe student-athletes feel apprehensive to open up because they are supposed to feel comfortable in their sports. 

When students first enter college sports they are immediately brought into a group and community. Also, physical exercise should be enough for someone to not be stressed if they do something every day, like playing sports. But Bell explained that it is because of these stigmas that athletes are nervous and afraid to report any mental health concerns. 

A few of the factors that Bell discussed are the identity of a student-athlete as well as their time demands that can result in mental health issues. Student-athletes, specifically in Division III sports, have pretty equal devotion to their sports and academics. They spend 28.5 hours a week devoted to their sports and 40.5 hours a week devoted to their schoolwork. However, student-athletes are only getting 6.27 hours nightly of sleep and 17.5 hours a week for socializing and relaxing. This lack of alone time and rest leads to worse physical performance which then makes the athlete go into a spiral of stress and pressure that they place on themselves. 

Most of these athletes have devoted their lives to their sports since they were 12 years old. Many sports, at a certain level, call or require that the athlete make that specific sport their main focus. Student-athletes lead their lives in terms of their academics and their sports teams. This duality in their lives helps them create a drive; however, it can create permanence in someone’s life. As a result of this intense focus and identity in a sport, the poor performance that manifests through this lack of energy and sleep can create mental health issues for athletes. 

Lydia Bell concluded her talk by referring to the different resources that the NCAA provides through its organization and their website. These resources spoke to different types of stress, societal pressure, and, more specifically, mental health issues that arise out of athletics. 

Junior Isabel Paris is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is iparis@fandm.edu.

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