The Mentality of Sports

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The Mentality of Sports

Luke Ekdahl and Kyle Patterson

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From football to track to gymnastics, sports have a physical intensity that has both positive and negative effects on the body. Sports and its affect on health has been fiercely debated in recent years. However, there is another aspect of health affected, and it’s not physical. Mental health can be greatly affected by sports, both in positive and negative manners.

The benefits of sports to a player’s mental health can be substantial. Eddie Moy, a junior at LHS who is in cross country, wrestling and track, believes that sports can bring many benefits to someone’s mental health.

“I would say that [exercise] is definitely is a positive thing,” commented Moy. “I think it really helps. You can let out all of your emotions and stress from the day, and then I feel a lot more prepared for homework and have a lot more energy.”

Mike Jones, the varsity head coach of LHS football, feels that sports can help athletes overcome obstacles in all aspects of life, something they may not be able to achieve elsewhere.

“I feel that from sports, you reach a high that you can’t reach anywhere else, and I think it also makes you mentally tough because you have to work through situations that are not only mentally difficult, but physically difficult,” he said. “You break through those barriers [in sports], and I think that is something that you just don’t get in the classroom.”

Many people in the medical field agree. Studies have shown that exercise during sports activities can have chemical and social benefits that help promote good mental health. “There’s that reaction at the cellular level of adrenaline that kicks in, so you do feel better after you’ve exercised,” commented LHS nurse Cameron Traut,  “Your body might be tired, but you’re feeling that ‘runner’s high,’ so there are some physiological changes that go on that make you feel better too and in a sense, it helps your mental health.”

Along with the chemical benefits to the brain, sports allow participants opportunities to meet people with similar interests and make new friendships. Sports also can be good in the sense that they teach students about time management and planning out their schedule. Participating in sports gives students structure in their schedule that they may not have otherwise.

“You tend to be a little more honed in and taking better care of yourself when you’re doing a sport too because that’s your tool, that’s what you’re going to do better and win the game,” commented Ms. Traut.

Social bonds formed while in sports can also help an athlete feel better mentally because they are connected to the rest of the community. “I think what’s really important [are] the bonds you make with other people, like in the sport and the companionship,” stated Moy.

Ms. Traut added, “It usually is a really good thing to be involved with [sports] when it comes to taking care of your mental health and your brain health because it tends to lead you to do other things that would be good for brain health such as diet and exercise, being connected socially, and having a purpose and a goal, which are all important for mental health.”

While sports can have a great deal of positive benefits for one’s brain, there are also some well-known negative aspects to sports as well. The level of stress student-athletes can experience is one example. Balancing homework and sports practices and games can be challenging at times, especially for students who participate in sports year-round.

“Being a three-sport athlete is very stressful and yes, usually I don’t have time to do anything during the week,” said senior Konnor Lindsey, who plays football, wrestling and lacrosse, in a typed response. “Being a three-sport athlete can affect your performance in school negatively if you let it.”

This exemplifies why it is very important for student-athletes to get the rest that they need. “No matter how old you are, you’ve got to make that time to just relax,” Ms. Traut added. “From a physical standpoint, [teenagers are] still going through changes… Growth and development changes. That can make you tired, which is why [teenagers] sleep more or need sleep more than [adults] do.”

It should also come as no surprise that injuries are common in sports. Most of these injuries are obvious to spot and will heal with time, such as broken bones or torn ligaments. What is less obvious and more difficult to treat, however, are psychological injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries.

The potential long-term risks of concussions and diseases like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated concussions, are known all-too-well today due to an overall better understanding of these types of injuries in the medical world as well as because of the media’s extensive coverage of them.

Aside from causing short-term cognitive and emotional changes, these injuries can have lasting impacts on one’s mental health, such as long-term memory loss, emotional distress and depression. Teenagers are especially vulnerable since their brains are still not fully developed. For these reasons, many sports today, especially high-contact sports, have been facing intense scrutiny regarding their safety.

There is no question that certain sports can pose a high risk to these types of injuries. According to HeadCase.com, a website that compiles concussion statistics from high schools across the country, roughly one in five high school athletes will experience a concussion at some point in their career. And of all diagnosed concussions among high school-aged athletes, only about 10 percent resulted in a loss of consciousness, meaning that it’s not always immediately obvious that a player has received a concussion.  Football, hockey and soccer are where these injuries are most prevalent, but they can occur in any sport at some level.

Although the disadvantages and risks of playing sports are known, this does not deter a significant amount of students from playing them. While sports can add extra stress to a student’s daily life, many people believe it’s worth it in the long run.

“It does take a lot of time, especially some sports, but overall I think [they are] a positive experience,” commented Moy. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.”  

Others believe that the life skills that sports teach are invaluable.

“Sports teach lessons that a classroom cannot,” added Lindsey, “such as how to deal with loss and how to be a good winner. They also teach you about mental and physical toughness that you can’t find in the classroom.”

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