Pop! A player hits the ground in excruciating pain, grabbing her knee. The teammates gather, hoping it’s nothing wrong. Coach works on her as she lies helpless on the floor. Then came the words a player never wants to hear: “I’m sorry, I think you tore your ACL.”
Shock crosses the girl’s face. All she can think about is the end of the season, surgery, a nine-month recovery, and the potential loss of college football.
I’ve had two ACL repairs and have been around players who have done the same thing. The fear of getting hurt or getting hurt again can invade someone’s mind. After an injury, an athlete’s behavior may change in the short term or even in the long term. They could fight a battle of fear every time they enter the field.
It’s not just the constant threat of injury that creates mental health issues. Athletes also need to worry about their level of physical performance and school work.
According to one study, 14.11% of men and 14.49% of female student-athletes experience mental health issues. It’s hard enough to graduate from high school, but the pressure to perform athletically, succeed academically, and stay injury-free piles the worries on the list.
A quarter of student-athletes say they feel pressure from parents and coaches to succeed. The pressure to be perfect. The pressure not to make mistakes. The pressure to be the best. This pressure could cause the player to hate the game they once loved.
The need to do well in school can also be mentally draining. It’s hard to balance practice and study, and one bad grade can land you on the bench. Children who struggle in school but love their sport end up feeling more stressed at the end of the day.
All of this can lead to intense mental struggles. When I first tore my ACL and was cleared to play, there wasn’t a day on the court that I didn’t think about tearing it again.
Before every game, I prayed, but the fear of tearing my ACL a second time consumed me. I almost had another injury-free season but unfortunately it happened again.
Now I’m recovering, and when I’m cleared I’ll have to think if I want to play again.
I love sports, but is all that stress worth it?
If you are an athlete struggling with mental health issues, please contact a trusted adult and tell them what you are dealing with. The fight for good mental health is more important than your sport.
Morgan Spencer is in 12th grade at Conestoga Valley High School