Mind Over Matter

High school athletes work to overcome pressure to excel

Sireen Abayazid, Online Editor

The district cross country meet is about to begin. Ten minutes before it’s time to run, junior Gretchen Braak’s mind begins to wander. She wonders if she’s good enough. She breathes, telling herself to focus only on the moment and prepares to run.

Every sport comes with stress, and in an article for the Atlantic, New Jersey-based sports psychologist Marshall Mintz, who has worked with teenagers for 30 years, incidents of depression and anxiety among student-athletes have increased over the past 10-15 years. Their stress can be caused by an important game, being overloaded with schoolwork or the pressure that’s on them to do well.

“Millard North is super competitive…in every way,” counselor Laurie Stackhouse said. “The expectations that the school and the coaches and parents have on our student-athletes to perform well is huge.”

The MN wrestling team is susceptible to stress due to the one-on-one aspect of wrestling. There is more pressure on individuals to do well rather than pressure on the whole team.

“You have no other teammates helping you, so when you’re out there, it’s just you versus one other guy,” wrestling coach Scott Loveless said. “All eyes are on you, so there is a little bit of stress involved with that.”

Because of the stress that wrestling can cause, the wrestling team will talk often about how they can mentally prepare for a match. These conversations can be lead by the coaches themselves, former MN wrestlers or other professional wrestlers.

“We went to a camp and an Olympic coach talked to us,” senior wrestler Tony Rinn said. “One thing [he said] is before we go out have a visual of yourself wrestling and…focus on the things that you do well.”

A wrestler’s mentality is a very important aspect of doing well in the sport. The team will have talks where the wrestlers are told to keep their minds clear and focus on what they can control.

“You can only control what you can do and not what anybody else is going to do,” Rinn said.

While wrestlers learn to control their actions, runners in cross country learn to control their thoughts while they are running. Cross country can be a mentally taxing sport, and it is hard to keep focused while running for such an extended period of time. During this time, the mind can wander to thoughts that distract from the goal.

“Sometimes it can lead to you comparing yourself based on other times or not doing as well as you thought you should,” Braak said. 

Junior Allison Louthan, a member of the girls cross country team. has learned to cope with her stress by speaking to a sports psychologist, and several of her teammates do the same. Through speaking with a psychologist, Louthan learned that her stress was internally caused, and came from the pressure that she had put on herself to do well. 

“[Seeing a therapist] has helped me to not only be happier but to [also] feel like I can enjoy everything that I do,” Louthan said.

Because several of her teammates see some sort of therapist to help them cope with their stress, coping with the overwhelming aspects of playing a sport. Being able to spend time with girls who share the same issues and interests is therapeutic to Braak. 

“If you’ve had a stressful day at school being surrounded by people who understand you…is [a nice way] to separate yourself from the school environment,” Braak said.

The pressure that comes with being on a sports team at a competitive school like Millard North can cause great stress in students. Stackhouse encourages students to come to the counselors when they need help dealing with this pressure or if they have anything they need to discuss. 

“We don’t know that kids are struggling with something unless they choose to come in and tell us,” Stackhouse said. “Our main goal is to make sure they’re getting the help that they need by having the right people to talk to.”