Players say university gives student-athletes ‘all the tools they need’ to be healthy mentally, physically
An NCAA student-athlete well-being study this year finds high rates of mental stress reported due to COVID-19 disrupting their daily life and athletic schedules.
One in 12 athletes report depression so high that it’s hard to function every day.
Winona State Football has felt that firsthand, but their approach to mental health is paying off in a fall without football.
Athletes discussing mental health would’ve been a rare thing a few years ago.
“I think it’s always been an issue,” head coach Tom Sawyer said. “I think just in the last few years it’s been a more talked-about issue, which is fantastic.”
At Winona State, it’s one of the first things addressed when an athlete steps on campus.
“They walk us through the different processes we can go to get help if we feel stressed, anxiety, we feel like we might have an eating disorder, or we’re not getting enough sleep at night,” senior QB Owen Burke said. “We’re sent surveys quite often.”
Warrior Football is one of many teams kept off the field since March, but prior teaching had them more prepared to overcome a season of isolation.
“Last summer, Coach Sawyer had a couple players walk through some mental health training so that not only we can get the support through the coaches, but also from teammates like myself and a few older guys,” Burke explained. “We’re the guys in the locker room, and we can see those tendencies too.”
The national athlete survey says 82 percent of responses reported feeling positive about the support they’re getting from coaches. For Sawyer, COVID-19 has made it even more important to be accessible on a personal level, whether by Zoom calls or summertime hangouts.
“My wife was running some yoga classes out at our house, and we could have 10 people, so we’d have 10 people,” Sawyer said. “Guys getting together in a different way, which I think creates that depth in those relationships.”
And now the waiting is paying off– relief for the Warriors this week as they hit the practice field for the first time.
“It was a nostalgic feeling,” Burke said, smiling. “It almost feels like a full year since we’ve been out there. I think the last time we practiced was last November.”
“It really felt good just to see that pressure release from 130 people out on that football field,” Sawyer said.
Burke and the rest of Warrior Football get 15 practices between now and late November. However long the pandemic lasts, Warrior Football believes their campus will have their back.
“I think Winona State has given athletes all the tools they need to make sure they’re healthy mentally and physically,” Burke said.
Both Sawyer and Burke added this pandemic has shown just how valuable their sport and all sports are, for the personnel involved and the communities who invest time and interest into those programs.
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