The Mental Wellbeing of Student-Athletes

As a student-athlete, my entire academic career was always challenged by my responsibilities as an athlete and vice versa. This struggle is something I have learned is not one I am alone in facing, especially in the last four years on the collegiate level. Through trial and error, and support from my teammates, family, and coaches I have made it to the end of my student-athlete career, but it was not easy in any sense. While I have done the best I can, using resources provided by our athletic program to assist in my mental well-being, there is more we can do to provide efficient and non-intimidating support to the mental health of overworked and anxiety-filled student-athletes in the community. Mental health among student-athletes is a growing issue that is not going anywhere.

Student-athletes noted academic worries (44%), planning for the future (37%), and financial worries (26%) as the top factors negatively impacting their mental health.

NCAA (2021)

Mental health issues remain on minds of student-athletes

Introducing, Overtime: Mental Wellbeing for Student-Athletes

My project will conduct an athlete-to-athlete conversation, and create a community that supports each other’s mental journey; a magazine to discuss and raise awareness for the mental well-being of athletes. The contents of Overtime will include 4 interview-based articles with student-athletes at SJU varying in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, and sport, discussing everything they feel comfortable sharing about their mental health journey as student-athlete. I will also be interviewing one member of the student-athlete support staff, the SJU Hawks Athletics Sport Psychologist, Dr. Andrew Wolanin about common struggles he sees with athletes, and how he steers them towards a healthier mindset on and off the field, and in the classroom. Each page will be laid out This aspect of my project will especially utilize the work I completed in one of my COM Options, ENG 261: News Reporting with Dr. Spinner, and the work I have done with the Hawk Newspaper in the past two semesters. Technology that I found helpful in the interviewing process that I have used in ENG 261 is Otter, which transcribes interviews live as they are occurring. This allows me to not only go back and listen to each interview but have an accurate transcript with timestamps and speaker changes.

Another element of this magazine will be full-page spreads with statistics on mental health in student-athletes, which will come as a result of my extensive research on the topic. The pages will also include quotes from both professionals and athletes that will also come from research, and highlight the voices of my interviewees. Next, I will also be including artistic full-page poster designs, which will take a more creative approach to communicate the importance of the mental well-being of student-athletes. Lastly, in terms of the magazine aspect of my project, Overtime will be completely branded with logos, a color scheme, and font choices; creating an overall cohesive theme to be displayed throughout the entire magazine. This branding will carry into the next aspect of my project; social media presence. This design aspect of my project will reflect on the work I have done in my Graphic Design classes that not only were included in my minor but as COM Options and Electives. The layout of these pages will be done in Adobe InDesign, which is a program I used for page layout in ART390: Typography: Design Letterform, and design elements and key ideas I learned in working with the Beautiful Social Research Collaborative, COM 202: Visual Design, and COM 200: Communication Theory/Practice.

I will be creating an Instagram account for Overtime, with the branding as discussed earlier. Each post will highlight the content within the magazine. This will take the form of laying out the key themes and quotes within each interview, resizing and redesigning the quote and statistic pages, and creating exclusive extra content that cannot be found in the magazine. The purpose of this Instagram will be to reach my audience, student-athletes from high school to the collegiate level, who lean more towards digital content as opposed to print. Also included will be a digital layout of the magazine, linked in the bio of the Instagram page, so it can be accessed virtually. The social media design theories are ones I learned and created projects within COM 200: Communication Theory/Practice. I will be using Adobe Illustrator to create social media posts, and designs along with Adobe InDesign. 

The scope of my project overall reflects the work I did with Professor Parry in Civic Media. While the issue behind the project I completed was completely different, the theories of effective communication of social justice issues will assist me in carefully assessing the issue in all communities and the public. One of the most important takeaways from this course for me was the way we communicate our points of view on social issues, to enact change in the most effective and politically correct way possible. We learned that media is powerful, and we must learn to use technology to uplift communities, as opposed to breaking them down with our words, because we have much more power than we think.

Work To Be Done

While as I discussed, I do have experience in the collegiate athletic field as a student-athlete, there is still much research to be done to understand the entire scope of the project I am completing. I will be researching studies that have been done on student-athletes and their mental well-being. I want to find out how many student-athletes not only struggle with mental-wellbeing but other issues under that umbrella which could include eating disorders, depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, post-college depression, imposter syndrome, suicide, etc. I cannot solely rely on my experiences to dive into such a complex and sensitive subject. Another area of research I want to do is what institutions are offering as resources to their student-athletes to see where there are holes in the need for support. Once I identify where universities and schools can improve, I can target these missing elements and attempt to channel them into my project. If there are elements that cannot be included in my project like access to therapy, for example, I would create call-to-action-like content that can work to change this in the future. So far in my surface-level research, I have focused on the NCAA website and what their protocols, goals, and resources look like for all divisions of collegiate athletics. There are many studies, articles, and journals to dive deeper into, which will also assist in my overall understanding of the subject.

In my research for similar projects, I have found two publications that involve resources for student-athletes. The first one, Athletes Minds Matter, is a newsletter and social media campaign that highlights breaking the stigma of the well-being of athletes and raises awareness for resources available. On their website, their mission statement is “Athlete Minds Matter is your space to begin nurturing your mental health, the same way you nurture your physical health, to be the best athlete you can be.” This platform is similar to my project in the way it highlights athletes from different backgrounds and discusses their mental health experiences, how they overcame them, and what we should do to change them. It is also similar in the sense that it is rooted in making change, and breaking barriers in the sports industry. There is a lot to learn from Athletes’ Minds Matter, as they are thorough in not only their message and purpose but their branding. One thing that they can improve on their brand is keeping a consistent social media presence, which is something I aim to do. A major difference between my project and this one is that you have to pay for a plan to receive content. They have plans with discounts for entire team subscriptions, which could be something I consider if my project were to expand past the limits of Senior Capstone in the future. 

The next project I found in my research that most closely relate to mine is Connecticut Student-Athlete Magazine. While this magazine is now inactive, it has a similar physical presence as opposed to being completely online. This is the closest magazine I could find to the mental wellness of athletes, as it discusses their successes both on the field and in the classroom. I will use the idea of this magazine as an inspiration but also use it as a challenge to not only discuss successes of student-athletes but the struggles most importantly. This magazine does this a bit, but not in the depth that I would like to. This is because this magazine’s market is young student-athletes, high school, and younger while my audience will be high school and older. It is important to target the older audience, because younger athletes may not have the maturity to acknowledge their mental struggles yet. 

Looking Forward

One of my biggest challenges for my project will be discussing sensitive topics most effectively and respectfully as possible. Something that I need to avoid at all costs is triggering someone in my audience with an insensitive discussion of these issues, or discussing without prior warning. While mental health is much more normalized today as opposed to a decade ago, that does not take away the importance of being respectful of the boundaries of the individuals being discussed, and the audience reading the issue. In addition to this, I must make my interviewees as comfortable as possible in the interview process. To combat this, I will conduct a conversation before the interview off the record, allowing them to be transparent with topics they would like to avoid discussing or putting in publication. This is something that I have learned to work with in my journalism experience, specifically with a story I wrote on sexual assault and intimate partner violence for the Hawk last year would also like to challenge myself to add a personal touch to my project, by including a message from the author at the end of the magazine. This will allow me to connect with my audience, showing them that I am someone they can relate to, and not feel as though I am someone prying for their trauma. While I have discussed my struggles with mental health in my collegiate career with both professionals and teammates, I want to challenge myself to open up publicly and discuss my journey, especially with my recent brain injury. By inserting myself into the community, it can uplift my voice, which in turn, can uplift others.

Technology-wise, I will need to use COM Department resources to get physical copies of my magazine printed. This is an extremely important element of my project, as the purpose of my project is to result in a printer magazine I can showcase with my presentation. I have experience using graphic design and art printers on campus, which can assist me in getting rough draft prints quickly throughout the process of coming to my final copies. One thing I learned in my design course, and in Bill’s COM 473: Popular Music, Protest, and Social Justice throughout our concert planning are that printed designs and designs on your computer screen can look very different. Printing throughout the process can show you if the typeface is too thin or scaled too small, or if colors look differently, and so on.

Approximate Timeline

WEEK FOUR: Conduct in-depth research, contact potential interviewees, begin exploring branding options, and draft a table of contents. 

WEEK FIVE: Draft 5+ logo designs, and decide on two drafts to continue to finalize (one illustration based, one typography based). Conduct Interview #1 (collect photos of athlete!), and create an Instagram account

WEEK SIX: Make branding decisions, complete with 3 fonts (Adobe/Google Fonts), and 6 colors (HEX Codes), and have the final logos complete. Complete Article #1 and layout in InDesign

WEEK SEVEN: Create Instagram Account, Conduct Interview #2 (collect photos of athlete!), and create the cover for the magazine.

WEEK EIGHT: Complete Article #2 and layout in InDesign, Create the first full-page spread design, and size for Instagram.

WEEK NINE: Conduct Interview #3 (collect photos of athlete!), create Instagram feed posts for Interviews #1 and #2, create back cover

WEEK TEN: Complete Article #3 and layout in InDesign, design statistic/research page

WEEK ELEVEN: Conduct Interview #4 (collect photos of the athlete!), create a second full-page spread design

WEEK TWELVE: Complete Article #4 and layout in InDesign

WEEK THIRTEEN: Create Instagram feed posts for Interviews #3 and #4 create a second quote/statistic page

WEEK FOURTEEN: Complete and layout Table of Contents, create Instagram feed post

WEEK FIFTEEN: Complete About the Author Page, create an Instagram feed post

WEEK SIXTEEN: Finishing touches, printing