But that is not the end of the potential mental stressors that are prevalent today. COVID has only compounded it and social media continues to exacerbate it.
On the professional level, those athletes who are compensated for their sport, whether it be through their contracts or endorsements, operate under a different set of rules. Many that they have agreed to in writing. But what they have not agreed to is to allow these external pressures on their mental health to not be considered. No one deserves that, no matter whether you are paid or not. They need support and in some instances a bit of grace so they can deliver on what they are being compensated for. This is a fact of life and part of any job.
When you consider the college level, the impact recent world events, including a social justice movement, have had on our athletes is unprecedented. COVID cost many of them precious and limited time in playing a sport they love. As college students, it took away a piece of what many of them see as their identify.
When learning became remote, delivered through technology rather than being in a classroom, they were still students. But when they could not practice with their team, in their facility, on their field, with their usual equipment, it changed their existence, mentally and physically.
As leaders and mentors, we need to be sensitive to the unique pressures that have been put upon student-athletes and the potential impact to their mental health. Emory understood fairly early the potential impact COVID had on the mental health of all students. This past year we offered additional mental health services for all students, including telehealth services, and enhanced mental health support for student-athletes adjusting to competing once again.
Our plan is to not stop there, as we understand that all the events occurring over the last year will likely have lingering effects and we will continue to identify opportunities to support emerging mental health needs.
Today, my role as an Athletic Director far surpasses the operational and programmatic charge I had been given in the past. I recognize that it is important for myself and other leadership to help address these challenges and support cultural shifts that do just that. To do this, education needs to occur with both the athletes and their support systems. Family members can be a source of pressure without even recognizing it.
This is a time for us all to support one another and give each other grace, particularly with athletes that we look to do and accomplish feats many of us on the sidelines can only dream of. I will tell our athletes that it is ok if they are struggling and need to talk to someone or even need to step away.
Get yourself right, that always comes first. With this, they can come back stronger and better prepared to take on the challenges this new world has put in front of all of us.
Keiko Price is Emory University’s athletic director.