High school sports suspension could hurt mental health of student athletes

Coronavirus

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — High school sports across the state are taking another hard hit, as winter championships have been canceled and sports considered high-risk postponed, according to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association.

Many student athletes are already feeling overwhelmed from COVID-19, cut off from teammates and sporting facilities. With high school sports suspended altogether, leaders in sports fields are concerned about the negative impact this can have on student athletes’ mental health. 

“I have a lot of friends that play basketball and other sports like that and they’re pretty upset that their season is canceled and up in the air right now,” said Olivia Rizzo, a tennis player and sophomore at Brighton High School.

Dr. Robert Zayas, executive director of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, says some parents of student athletes are noticing changes in their behavior.

“It’s having an impact upon their motivations,” Zayas said. “It’s drastically changed their lives, and I’m aware of that and that’s the reason we’re working so diligently with our state officials.”

The consequences of COVID-19 on student athletes include sleep difficulties, a sense of loss, and depression according to a NCAA Student-Athlete COVID-19 Well-being Survey

Some initial research shows fall sports athletes had fewer cases of COVID-19 then their peers overall, something sports psychologists with the University of Rochester believe can be traced to a sense of purpose received from sports.

“So, I worry about that part, without having something that’s meaningful, that’s goal oriented for them, I worry about how much are they’re going to as adolescents take the right steps in terms of masking, gathering those types of things in the winter,” said Craig Cypher, sports psychologist and certified mental performance consultant at the University of Rochester.

According to the The New York State Department of Health, high-risk sports include basketball, boys lacrosse, competitive cheerleading, football, ice hockey, volleyball, and wrestling.

Low to moderate-risk high school sports will still operate. The state has given no timeline on the suspension length.

While athletes grapple with the uncertainly, many are coping by creating personal workouts, virtually gathering with friends, and competing against themselves.

“I work out at home, stay in touch with your coaches, and maybe make a plan,” Rizzo said. “It’s really tough for athletes right now and I think the biggest thing for me is the uncertainty and the stress in that.”

Because there are no competitions or practices for student athletes to record, there is also concern about how this will impact college recruitment. Leaders are encouraging student athletes to continue to train and reach out to colleges.

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