Measuring up: handling sports expectations

Tara Wirtschoreck, asst. sports editor

The day of an average high schooler can be filled with a thousand different stressors, but for a student-athlete, this stress is often compounded by a pressure to succeed during sports,  senior Ashi Chikani, varsity golf captain, said.

Athletes feel stress from many different places, like parents, teammates, coaches, or themselves. This stress can negatively impact an athlete’s performance and mental health, Chikani explained. Having played on the golf team since freshman year, Chikani has seen that both internal and external pressure to succeed can take a toll on athletes. She noted that there is a fine line between healthy competition, which can help athletes work harder, and unhealthy pressure that can hurt athletes. 

“Mental health in athletes is a very big topic,” Chikani said. “I know that sometimes my teammates’ parents put an exorbitant amount of pressure on [athletes and]  they’re collapsing under it.”

Senior Luke Marino, varsity football linebacker, said he feels stressed when he has had a string of bad plays. Marino combats this by staying focused during the game to calm his nerves.

“Normally after a play, I slow down, take a deep breath, and try to flush out the last play,” Marino said.“[I] just focus on the next play [and] that’s all [I] can do.” 

Junior Jeff Wei, varsity cross country Runner, explained that he sometimes feels stressed before races, because he wants to reach the expectations that he has for himself to help his team score. Even though it can sometimes create added pressure, Wei said he loves competing as a team because they help each other through the good times and bad. 

“When [we have a good race] as a team, everyone feels happy for each other and happy about our performance,” Wei said. “On the other hand, [if we have a] bad race it’s not fun, but we all pick each other up.”

In most cases, sports can help student-athletes manage stress, Amanda Middleton, school psychologist and varsity cheerleading coach said. But when an athlete feels too much pressure, from themselves or external sources such as coaches and parents, it can hurt athletes’ mental health. 

“It’s all about a balance,” Middleton said. “In manageable doses, stress can be really good for us. But when [athletes] experience high levels of stress, they [experience] negative effects.” 

It’s important for student-athletes to reflect on whether or not their sports are benefiting them, Middleton explained. She urges students to talk to a trusted adult if sports hurt their mental health. 

“Athletes need to ask themselves whether sports are more of an outlet that helps relieve stress, or if their sport is [causing] stress levels to a point where it’s unmanageable,” Middleton said. 

As the crowd watching a sport increases, so does the pressure to perform well. At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Simone Biles, Olympic gymnast, withdrew from the events she had originally planned to participate in. Biles said that when competing, the pressure and expectations from others took a back seat to her own mental health. 

“We have to focus on ourselves, because at the end of the day, we’re human, too,” Biles said to The Associated Press. “We have to protect our mind and our body, rather than just go out there and do what the world wants us to do.”

Senior Maya Malecki, varsity cross country captain, said the pressure athletes face often comes from themselves. She expressed it is important for athletes to prioritize their mental health whether or not they are happy with their sports performance. 

“[Too much] pressure can be unhealthy because at a certain point, you get inside your head, and your [thinking] becomes, ‘I need to achieve this in order to be proud of myself,’” Malecki said. “Once you get to that point, it’s unhealthy.”

Malecki believes a supportive team can help alleviate some of the stress athletes face. The cross country team helps Malecki enjoy running, and feel better about her races. 

“Knowing your team has your back takes a lot of pressure off,” Malecki said. “[A good team] gives [competitions and practices] a fun atmosphere, and you know that you’re there to have fun and get better, not to be under pressure all the time.”