Athletes mental health should not be ignored

Benaiah Hanson, Staff

I have played on a professional soccer club, the New England Revolution, for four years so I know a thing or two about what it takes to be a top athlete in America today and the tremendous toll it not only takes on your body, but particularly the toll it takes on your mental health. 

Recently, Harry Miller, a former offensive lineman on Ohio State University, said in his two-page letter on Twitter that he was retiring from football due to his mental health challenges. He said in his letter that while playing, he “would rather be dead than a coward” when talking about his fear of seeking help for his mental health issues. With the help of head coach and new Hampshire-native Ryan Day, Miller finally found health and is now concentrating solely on addressing his challenges with mental health.

In sports, the higher you go, the more pressure there is to perform.. The pressure comes from yourself, but also from parents, coaches, and mentors.  According to The National Institute of Health, studies have shown that one-third of athletes reported being encouraged to continue playing by a parent and/or coach despite admitting an injury, physical or mental. 

These instances occur at all levels of competition from little league to the MLB, from Pop Warner to NFL, from the town recreational leagues to the Olympic Games.

According to Frank Smoll, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, parents, in particular, play a pivotal role in determining whether a sport is a healthy learning experience or a mental health nightmare. Smoll cites “frustrated jock syndrome” as a stressor for young athletes. This is when parents attempt to relive their own glory days through their children.

Being on an athletic team can be an amazing experience as long as the athlete’s mental health is not ignored. Gymnast and Olympic gold medalist, Simone Biles said it best when asked why she withdrew from the Olympic games in 2020: “My mental health comes first.”