Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Expectations weigh heavy on student athletes’ mental health

Freshman+Maddia+Groff+takes+a+deep+breath+as+she+gets+ready+to+pitch+against+Missouri+State+April+24%2C+2024+at+Charlotte+West+Stadium+in+Carbondale%2C+Illinois.+Libby+Phelps+%7C+%40libbyphelpsphotography
Libby Phelps
Freshman Maddia Groff takes a deep breath as she gets ready to pitch against Missouri State April 24, 2024 at Charlotte West Stadium in Carbondale, Illinois. Libby Phelps | @libbyphelpsphotography

Outside of administrators, athletes are some of the most highly scrutinized figures at colleges. 

 

Every time that they step onto the court, dive into the pool, or throw a discus, there is an expectation about how an athlete should be performing. These expectations may be personal, but coaches and fans often also hold their own opinions. 

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The weight of these expectations can be a heavy burden to bear, and one that can weigh heavily on student athletes. One of the main hypotheses in Andrew Wolanin, Michael Gross and Eugene Hong’s study Depression in Athletes: Prevalence and Risk Factors focuses on how athletes may be at an even higher risk for depression. 

 

Ubayd Steed, a senior safety on the SIU football team, speaks to the importance of having somebody that can be an outlet when an athlete’s mental health is being strained by factors listed in Hong et. al’s study including injuries, overtraining and performance-based expectations. 

 

“As far as mental health and collegiate athletes, I feel as though everyone needs a person that they can lean on,” Steed said. “If you’ve got at least one person that you trust, and knowing that you can put your problems on them without you feeling like a burden, that’s a big help.”

 

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According to Steed, having this person can do more than just offer a way to get relief from the problems that student athletes may be facing. 

 

“A lot of times when you just put things out to people and you let them know what’s going on, when they give you another outlook or another aspect on life, it lets you dive deeper on yourself,” Steed said.

 

Expectations are heaviest in the big moments. Legacies are forged when athletes transcend these moments and make the big shot, break up the pass, score the winning point, or have the walk off hit. 

 

But what happens on the flip side? When the ball is caught two feet from the outfield fence? When the pass is completed centimeters over the defender’s outstretched hands? When the shot rims out?

 

It’s usually not the benchwarmer involved in these plays either. It’s the top dogs, the stars that are expected to show up in the big moments. For these athletes specifically, these moments can be especially devastating for athletes. According to Thomas Hammond, Christie Gialloreto, Hanna Kubas and Henry Davis IV’s paper The Prevalence of Failure-Based Depression Among Elite Athletes, the rate of depression among these elite athletes after a failure nearly doubles compared to other, more regular-level teammates.

 

This all goes back to expectations and how heavy they can be.  While many stars want to be put into the fire and tested at the toughest moments, there is the weight of the expectation from their coaches, from themselves, and even from fans that they will succeed.

 

Players who have a great year are often expected to be able to repeat their performance during the next season. Steed recognizes the pressure, but notes that there are ways to work around it.

 

“I’ll just treat it like my life. My approach to the game is really poised. The moment is going to get big, and I’m never going to fall in those big moments,” Steed said.

 

But how does a player even develop the point where expectations are very high? While there are always things that coaches expect out of players, such as maximum effort and a certain amount of time put into the game through practice, how does a player reach the next ledge?

 

Steed has a simple blueprint, one that he and many other athletes have proven to work.

 

“Always set your goals and standards super high. There’s a famous quote, ‘I’ll shoot for the moon, and at least I’ll be amongst the stars,’” Steed said. “I always keep that quote in mind when I’m trying to achieve my goals and just staying patient, knowing my time will come.”

 

“I will say, the main things are just keeping faith and staying patient. Those are the two things that I prioritize to achieve my goals,” Steed said.

 

Steed gives a simple answer about how he will stand up to the pressure and expectations that come with lofty goals and strong performances. 

 

He said, “I just gotta be myself and seize the moment. Everything will come to me.”

 

Sports reporter Ryan Grieser can be reached at [email protected]. To stay up to date on all your southern Illinois news, be sure to follow The Daily Egyptian on Facebook and on X @dailyegyptian.

 



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