By Justin Robertson
Fractured legs, torn ligaments, dislocated shoulders, and punctured lungs sound rare, but they are just some of the common injuries that athletes all around the world have to worry about. These physical injuries are obviously a cause for concern, but the hidden danger lies in the mind. Thousands of professional and high school athletes across the country are under constant pressure to both perform at a high level and to balance the rest of problems that arise during everyday life. Leg and arm injuries can heal, sometimes even so much that the limb performs better than before the injury, but healing one’s damaged mind is not as simple as putting a bone back into place.
All coaches tend to preach putting the team ahead of yourself, but when former Hall of Fame Packers head coach, Vince Lombardi, said “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” he probably was not considering the repercussions of that mindset. Winning in sports is ultimately the most important goal, but it should not be the only thing concerning players, coaches, and fans. Not to say every team should receive participation trophies, but if winning is the only thing players and coaches are focused on, trying to have a positive mindset in life when losing is near impossible. Varsity Glenelg Boys Soccer captain, Evan Mavronis, says “During the season my mood is usually determined by if we win or if we lose. Wins feel great but that feeling doesn't stay like the feeling of losing. Personally for me, after I lose I feel depressed. I don’t want to talk to anyone or do anything. I’ve been on teams who have had rough seasons where we have lost a lot and it’s mentally grueling.” Playing sports, especially when representing your school, is a great experience, but with mindsets like the one held by Mavronis, winning can become the only thing that seems to matter in life.
Social media, as expected, only makes matters worse for athletes. Similarly to the social pressure to “fit in” at school, there is a pressure on the field or court to have your peers respect your contribution to the team. Rather than focusing on the skills and fundamentals of a sport, athletes are now too afraid to make mistakes and put themselves out there where the world can watch and listen. At Glenelg this is no different, as Senior Dance Company member, Brooke Sills, says “Social media [definitely] plays a role in the mental health of students and athletes. Especially with dance, people rarely put up videos or pictures of themselves dancing because they are afraid of how people will judge them and their technique.” No sport will ever be free from judgement, but the constant scrutiny that athletes are facing from the rise of social media is creating a destructive epidemic.
Since both professional and student athletes are often put on a pedestal above the rest of society, fans tend to consider them “invincible.” Those fans look up to their beloved professional or student athletes and aspire to become them one day, but they are blind to the hidden frustrations that the players bottle in. After years of being “protective about anything and everything in [his] inner life,” NBA all star Kevin Love finally opened up about his struggle. Love says, “Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man.’ It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own.” As a society, we have become so beholden to judge males showing emotion that they feel scared to express any emotional concern they may have. No person wants to be judged, but with our current view on athletes being above us, we are making it very difficult for athletes to feel comfortable enough to speak out.
As mentioned earlier the physical injuries are not usually as harmful as the stress and mental health issues that result from sports; however, those same injuries are still a leading factor in contributing to the stress and mental issues themselves. Professional sports have seen injuries kill players’ demeanours, most recently with the retirement of NFL pro bowl quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck was in the prime of his career when he gave up playing the sport he onced loved. During his retirement Luck said, “For the last four years or so, I've been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it's been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football.” Imagine quitting the profession you love simply because if you were to continue it your body would forever be fatigued and broken. Luck had to make a choice between playing football or living the way he wanted to live, and he had the courage to make “the hardest decision of [his] life.” Luck is not the only one who has had his/her mind scrambled by injuries, as the same effect is even evident on a smaller scale at Glenelg.
During sports seasons it does not take long for the crowded halls of Glenelg to be populated with casts and braces. The casts and braces come off eventually, but the frustration that comes with the rehab and healing process can take years to dissipate. Senior field hockey player and University of Delaware commit, Kathryn Hoffman, tore her ACL during the summer at a field hockey camp for the Delaware Bluehens. Now, nearly three months after the injury, she says “I always took things for granted and now, not really being able to do anything just makes me mad. I would do anything to play right now if I could.” Typically, injuries are less severe than a torn acl, but the impact of the injury can be just as worse. Glenelg varsity basketball player, Jack Walsh, was casually playing a pick up basketball game in July when he went up for a layup and landed awkwardly. It turned out to be a torn ligament in his ankle, which is still limiting him today. Walsh says, “My current ankle injury is very frustrating because basketball season is approaching and it has hindered my ability to prepare.” Just like Hoffman, Walsh simply wants to play the game he loves, but the injury is preventing him from doing so, and is also affecting his emotional thoughts towards his status.
From physical injuries to social media, many factors play a role in the way athletes think, behave, and play. Sports is about having fun and working as a team to accomplish goals, and while there is always some happiness to be had, the stress athletes are now under is too destructive to their psychological and physical health.