By Sophia Rottman
In a typical school year, students expect a few constants from their high school experience; however this year is anything but typical. These constants normally include homework, tests, projects, clubs and sports. Amidst everything else in their lives, student-athletes usually always had school sports to look forward to. School sports provide many benefits to the individual and the school community as a whole. For example, inter-grade connections, friendships between teammates, school spirit and improved teamwork and leadership skills. Graduating students now may miss out on their final seasons, and numerous students who were relying on athletics for scholarships now face potential changes to their post-secondary plans. School sports in Ontario have been put on an indefinite hold, including the cancellation of OFSAA (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) championships and festivals that were scheduled for October and November. The cancellation, postponement and modifications of school sports, and outside of school teams, due to Covid-19, have had such an unprecedented impact on student athletes' health.
Physical activity has been proven to positively impact the mental and physical well-being of youth, many of whom have now suffered from the lack of. Aside from the loss of sports' physical benefits, many athletes have faced worsening mental health, including depression and anxiety. Sports often act as a great distraction and relief from stressors. Now, many teenagers that were involved in sports have suffered mentally due to the consequences of the pandemic. A substantial amount of the decline in mental health can likely be attributed to a massive amount of change and uncertainty surrounding such a meaningful part of their lives. Other contributing factors include a new lack of motivation or focus, common worries over losing their skills and abilities and extremely different levels of socialization and contact with their teammates. The swift changes early on during the pandemic for athletes meant a colossal shift from dedicating so much time to an activity they loved to short calls, online communication and being encouraged to practice and stay active on their own.
With such a widespread decline in athletes' mental health, it is imperative to address and attempt to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health in the world of sports. When athletes get injured physically, there is a protocol; they get assessed and treated by professionals, then heal and take time off as needed. Everyone does what they can to ensure that the athlete makes a healthy recovery, so why treat a mental health issue differently? A primary factor contributing to the stigma is the common ideals of what an athlete must be; always tough, healthy, fit and certainly not weak. These ideals create a perception that they must always resemble these societal standards. But, asking for help is not a weakness. Due to the stigma, athletes suffering due to their mental health are more likely to suffer alone and without help than a physically injured athlete. The stigma around mental health in the sports community simply can not prevent athletes from asking for help when necessary any longer, especially at a time so unparalleled and when athletes need support more than ever.
Photo above By Anthony Quach (Instagram @416Toronto1)
Header Photo By Rongy Chai