Maintaining Student-Athlete Stress Levels - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Coaches appreciate the effects of stress. It can push athletes to train and compete harder in appropriate amounts, but too much can render them ineffective, sick, and potentially injured. Coaches possess a honed talent for finding the stress sweet spot so their athletes are motivated but not overwhelmed. Athletics, in general, are a natural way student-athletes can reduce stress brought on by academics. However, stress from both athletics and academics can result in poor performance within each, hurting the student-athlete's future and health.

Interscholastic and collegiate coaches are concerned with more than their athletes' athletic performance. They show a great interest in their academic career, and help them maintain stress levels so they can excel in every area. They understand athletics should reduce stress AND improve academics - not add stress and replace academics. Alongside the natural relief produced by exercise, coaches teach student-athletes strategies that reduce stress on and off the field.

Stress in School and the Benefit of Athletics

In a 2014 survey, 27% of high school students claimed to experience serious stress during school. 23% said the stress even led to skipping meals, and 36% said they experienced severe fatigue - a sign of depression. In a parent-poll, 40% of participants stated their teen experienced stress directly related to academics.

These statistics reveal that a substantial amount of students are experiencing unhealthy levels of stress, and that much of it is related to academics. Interestingly, the teens who reported feeling tremendous stress also seemed to feel as though they were in a constant state of emergency. With this state comes a number of potential emotional and mental issues as the body seems to be in a consistent state of fight or flight.

What can help those experiencing extreme levels of stress?

Exercise and athletics naturally relieve stress for multiple reasons. First, physical health directly correlates with mental health. Running, stretching, and improving hand-eye coordination benefits the cardiovascular system and exercises brain processes less used academically.

Second, progress can be scaled and measured easily in athletics, helping student-athletes accomplish goals and increase their confidence. The enemies of stress are confidence and ability, which are built through attaining goals and recognizing increased aptitude.

Third, athletics provide companionship and relationship-building opportunities. Students who are stressed by social dynamics in lieu of academics can build relationships on a team. Because everyone is there to represent their school and have a passion for that particular activity, it's easier to approach others and strike up conversation.

student stressed

Coaches Teach Preparation and Management - The Defenses Against Stress

Not surprisingly, many strategies used by coaches to prepare for a major competition are also used by graduates preparing for the GMAT. Competitions are a form of testing one's knowledge and skill, therefore preparation for each would be similar. That is good news for student-athletes suffering from academic stress. Athletics alone may not be relieving their stress due to compartmentalization, so coaches teach them how to handle school stress by implementing pre-game strategies to ensure players are ready for the exam or game.

- Take advantage of online resources: Like watching videos of drills or skill breakdowns in order to do them better, student-athletes can use academic online resources to better study. If stress is coming from a lack of understanding, there are plenty of sites that offer additional study materials that frame knowledge differently to a student's benefit.
- Warm-up prior: Always warm-up. It's good for the body before competition, and it's good for the brain before testing. Warming up gets the blood flowing and places student-athlete's in the right mindset. Going into a class or a test cold means knowledge-retention suffer, so warming up with reading or some practice questions can reduce stress.
- Maintain pace: Particularly important to running, maintaining pace is important for reducing stress. Too quick, and burnouts happen. Too slow, and completion may not be feasible. Runners reduce stress by pacing themselves, and students should as well during exams. If a student-athlete is worried about an exam, they can implement this practice and give themselves a certain amount of time for each question.

Along with helping student-athletes manage their academic rigors, coaches also provide additional help. Whether through study hours, accountability programs, or tutoring, they ensure their student-athletes can handle stress. It is a natural part of life, and handling it healthily is a major component of maturity. High school is when students will really start to feel stresses that can't be handled by parents, but coaches can offer help and strategies so stress doesn't cause long-term issues.

Articles by Sarah Daren