‘There’s a lot of pressure on kids today’: Professionals discuss mental toughness in high school sports

Miami Valley News

CENTERVILLE, Ohio (WDTN) – Following Olympic champion Simone Biles’ decision not to compete due to mental health reasons, professionals are reminding high school athletes to be more cognizant of their mental health as the school year begins.

“There’s a lot of pressure on kids today,” said athletic director for Centerville City Schools, Rob Dement. “Kids start specializing as early as 8-, 9-years-old now, and they do this in hopes of getting a scholarship, trying to pay for school.”

He said that creates a lot of stress for student athletes, who already have a lot on their plates. And after the backlash Biles received for withdrawing from Olympic competitions to focus on her mental health, he said it’s important to reevaluate mental toughness.

“I would argue that mental health is important across the board, not just with athletics,” he said. “I think, obviously, you know, where our kids are right now coming out of the last 15 months, it’s going to be really important for us to meet them where they are and have some supports in place.”

Cindy Cassell, sports dietician with Kettering Health, added outside stress on athletes on can also play a role in how well they are able to perform.

“Sometimes you expect these athletes to perform at really high levels and you have no idea: Did they get their homework done? Did they just get an A on a math test or an F on a math test? I mean, did they have lunch before they came? Maybe they didn’t have money for lunch.”

Because there’s often no way of knowing that background information, Cassell said it’s important to show some compassion. But she also said athletes can do some things to support themselves, including eating nutritious meals and avoiding junk food.

In the future of athletics, Dement said he’d like to see more athletes talk honestly about their mental health with loved ones and professionals, and that their openness will be a sign of strength, not weakness.

“It is a reality … especially [because] these kids are on their phones 24/7. We all know that they’re on social media and looking at their likes, their retweets — you name it,” said Dement. “And unfortunately, a lot of kids get their validations that way, and we have to make sure that we’re attacking that and making sure that they understand that that isn’t how you judge your worth. Your worth is judged internally, by yourself and then secondly, by those who are with you.”

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