Local student-athletes struggle with mental health due to lack of sports

Local student-athletes struggle with mental health due to lack of sports

Local student-athletes struggle with mental health due to lack of sports
Carondelet strength and conditioning coach Danielle Bernat and Mt. Diablo High School basketball player Devin Foo share their thoughts on stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on young athletes.

CONCORD, CA—Since sports came to a screeching halt one year ago, student-athletes were put into a seemingly never-ending waiting game.

For almost a year, student-athletes were waiting to get back to participating in organized sports and just this month both youth and high school sports are getting back on the field, in the pool and on the court.

All that waiting and uncertainty during the pandemic came at the cost of mental health.

Last May, the University of Wisconsin conducted a study to test the correlation between the cancellation of sports and a possible increase of student-athletes suffering from mental health issues.

In the study, just over 3,000 Wisconsin student-athletes took an online survey containing questions about their mental health. Researchers reported 65% of the athletes showed signs of anxiety. About 40% of participants said their anxiety was mild, while 13% said their case was severe.

The study also showed that 68% of Wisconsin student-athletes showed signs of depression. About 33% of cases were labeled under the moderate to severe category.

The effects

MDHS senior Devin Foo

Fast forward to 10 months after the Wisconsin study, local student-athletes and coaches are still facing struggles with their mental health.

“It’s been tough,” Mt. Diablo High School senior basketball player Devin Foo said. “My hopes are kind of low. Senior season is a big season and I’m hoping for a scholarship with any luck.” Foo was doing his best to keep his spirits up during a time that is usually the culmination of a long season of workouts, tryouts, practice, games and tournaments.

“Most of all, I miss my teammates and my coach. I miss bonding with them and working hard towards a goal,” Foo told The Pioneer.

Foo’s coach Ejon Felder has been doing his best to try and keep his team in good spirits, even if their main channel of communication is virtual. “Not being able to shoot the basketball together and do things together as a team really hurts team chemistry,” Felder said. “I have frequent conversations with [the team]. A lot of it is just venting.”

The main thing that concerns Felder about his student is how unusual their daily routines have become with virtual learning. “I am very concerned about their mental health based on the normal things they do every day,” Felder said. “Not being able to be outside in the fresh air and the sun obviously concerns me.”

Felder admitted, even in his efforts to bond the team together, the pandemic has taken a toll on him as well. “To me, it is one of those of things where I got to keep my head a little tighter than most. A lot of times I don’t think about [my mental health] because I’m really busy, but there are some moments where I go: ‘Man, this stuff is crazy.’”

At Carondelet High School, strength and conditioning coach Danielle Bernat started seeing some anxiety in her girls only a few days into the pandemic last spring. “That first month and half I was just listening a lot to them,” Bernat said.“

Like Felder, Bernat made sure to be available to any student who needed advice, a new home workout or just someone to vent to about their situation. Bernat is a Northgate High grad and played club soccer at a high level for DVSC and Diablo FC so she is well aware of the camaraderie, life lessons and other benefits that being a teammate bring.

“We can only control what we can control,” Bernat said. “We are still going to do everything we can to enjoy the time we have.” Like other coaches, Bernat and Felder know with only a couple months left in this school year seniors especially are thirsting for a final chance to complete their last year of high school sports.

Doing what they can

Carondelet coach Danielle Bernat

Even with virtual learning still the norm for most of a calendar year, Carondelet and Mt. Diablo have been able to provide some refuge to struggling student-athletes through limited practices.

At Mt. Diablo, coach Felder was able to provide his team with some socially distanced outdoor practices. “They are like a bunch of puppies running around at practice,” Felder said. “Even though we are socially distanced, they are just happy to be together. It gives them a percentage of normalcy.”

For Carondelet, Bernat said she cherishes every time she gets to bring her athletes together to train, even if it is limited. “I’ve seen a lot of those [mental health studies] and when we are able to bring athletes back it is absolutely amazing,” Bernat said.

All in all, students and coaches are doing their best to stay positive without “normal” sports while also being thankful for what they have. “There is a silver lining to all this,” Foo said. “We’ve had more time to prepare because the season was pushed back. I see it as a good thing in a way that we have had more time to prepare.”