A straight shot to the goal, a breakaway sprint and you’ve scored. It would seem to be a simple movement, but this action is so much more than a single reaction. This single movement is at the end of a long chain of decision making with attention given to surrounding. In a quick sweep the field an athlete must choose the best possible option, all within the confines of a few seconds.
The athlete’s mind is one of split-second reactions, quick decision making and enhanced memory for play and rules. It must be sharp, as strategizing and planning are necessary for successful games. The world of competitive sports is one of extreme rigor and discipline regardless of the level of skill. But, how much of this sport intellect is reflected in intellect, particularly in school?
There is much to be said on student involvement in athletics at the high school level; studies upon studies, have given face to a positive correlation between achievement, emotional health and participation on sports teams. The act of taking part in a sport affords a social environment, frequent physical activity and a more structured schedule—all aspects contributing to better mental health. The Datalys Center details that high school athletes are 85% more likely to report their friends caring about them. These athletes have a more internalized locus for control, and are 25% less likely to experience depression. From this recovered mental health one can assume an increase in achievement.
A 2009 study from Angela Lumpkin and Judy Favor, studied athletes and non-athletes in high school and found quite often athletes were performing better than non-athletes. Out of the athletes 74% of males and 87% of females reported a GPA higher than 3.0, while non-athletes reported 64% of males and 75% of females as having a GPA over 3.0. Further, out of non-athletes 88.1% graduated from high school, whereas the athlete group had 97.6% graduate. The success rate may very well have to do with the mandates on grades required for participation, the affirmative effects of physical activity of the mind, etc.; regardless, of the cause one cannot deny the results. In high school, athletics appear to be a precursor for skill development in much more difficult tasks: in managing time, maintaining relationships and teamwork allowing for greater success. The effects of sportsmanship are overall undeniable.
Yet, there is little information on the consequences of athletics on achievement and mental health on a collegiate level and what there is of it leaves much to be desired. Immediately I found an analysis of academic achievement and sports participation by Chris Amos, in which he compared working non-athlete students and student athletes with use of GPA. With the basis of the aforementioned studies with high school athletes and non-athletes, the natural supposition would be similar results for both cases—superior performance among the student athletes with lesser achievement among non-athletes. This is an interesting case! Amos found that generally non-athletes had higher GPAs over student athletes.
However, when the number of hours worked were factored in as a means of comparison to hours practiced the student athletes accounted for a marginally higher GPA. Perhaps, the reason for the diminished success in college athletes is due to a change in mental health? In a study by Dr. Daniel Merenstein, a survey of current college athletes and past college athletes found that current athletes were twice as likely to be experiencing depression as past student athletes and 17% of current athletes were dealing with depression.
There are definitely quite a few explanations for this trouncing of mental health that could cause the disparity in accomplishment. An obvious factor could be the stress levels involved in course work and college life in general.
College is, for some people, quite a jump from high school in terms of workload and time constraints, collectively it can be a bit overwhelming. Lack in rest is another likely contributor to poor mental health as it is necessary for proper functioning in daily tasks. Tiredness leads into overtraining which is pretty self-explanatory and can cause injury which can be even more damaging. Gregory Wilson and Mary Pritchard expand upon the stresses of college athletes and financial stress, body satisfaction and social stress with those previously mentioned as being among the highest stress triggers.
Ultimately, student athletes in college are facing the challenges of balancing high level education with high level sporting and are showing some strain. With students working equivalent amounts to athletes’ practice time, however, the student athletes are performing better in an academic stance. What does this mean for collegiate students involved athletics?
Personally, I don’t believe much can be taken from this without more research on the correlation between achievement and mental health athletes, especially regarding mental health. Dr. Merenstein even calls for more examination for to ensure good mental health. Currently mental health is becoming highly recognized for the serious issue it is, there is little excuse for the lack in monitoring, proper diagnosis and treatment – chiefly if it can create better living and aid in higher success.