Mental health in high school students has been more prevalent than ever in recent years—especially in athletes. High school sports have become extremely competitive in the last decade, even children’s sports have become increasingly important. The amount of children playing on league teams has increased exponentially, and a lot of their time is taken up by the constant strain of trying to be faster, stronger, and better than their opponents. When they are young, this may seem to have little effect on athletes, but after years of high expectations and stress, it does.
The main reason most children choose to play a sport is because they love it—or at least their parents do. In years past, childhood sports have been pretty low-key. With teams like Dad’s Club, the competition wasn’t too high and many kids played it just for fun. However, in today’s world, this “having fun” mentality is vastly changing. Now, kids are burdened with competing at high levels at a young age—which often leads to struggles in their teen years. According to The Atlantic, the rising numbers of private and club teens are urging children to specialize in just one sport. This can lead to kids being burned out from their sport at younger ages than usual. This constant strain in their youth and the growing intensity of competition often leads to sports being the main focus of many kids’ lives. This constant overworking can leave little time for relaxation and even sleep.
“The biggest problem is sleep loss—all these kids are sleep-deprived, and this becomes a major contributor to anxiety and depression.”
Sleep is one of the most important factors in athletic performance, and teenagers don’t get enough of it as it is. So, with sports factored in, teens really aren’t getting enough sleep. The Atlantic interviewed a sports psychologist based in New Jersey, Marshall Mintz, who stated,
“The biggest problem is sleep loss—all these kids are sleep-deprived, and this becomes a major contributor to anxiety and depression.” According to Sleep Foundation, while sleeping, brain activity goes through different stages that are vital to one’s health. These stages play a huge role in learning, memory, and even “processing of emotional information.” A lack of sleep affects the prior exponentially, which can lead to mental health issues over prolonged periods of time. As practices grow longer and school becomes more difficult, teens have seemingly no free-time. With a yearning time to spend with friends and family, or even homework, it seems that time for sleep just isn’t as important. This is detrimental to the health of teenage athletes everywhere.
What To Do
Between constant stress starting in childhood and lack of sleep as they get older, teenage athletes could be in serious trouble. The effects that sports can have on mental health are no joke and need to be taken as seriously as winning a game is. It’s okay to not be okay, and be sure to always reach out if you or someone you know needs help.