Like it or not, athletes are popular culture icons. They are idolized by fans and the media, and are looked to as role models by those growing up. With success on the playing field comes attention and “popularity” for the student athlete, and with that attention and popularity, comes responsibility. The pressure of this image or trying to maintain this image can result in stress. Prolonged, unresolved stress can result in depression, performance issues, social isolation, and even suicidal thoughts or behaviors. For the student athlete, these stresses can result in behavioral and attendance issues, and degradation in their academic performance.It’s my calling to inform student-athletes that God has blessed them with physical gifts and talents. You see, the word “student” comes before the word “athlete” for a reason: to be a student first and an athlete second.
In my senior year in high school, we were losing a football game in the playoffs versus Jenison High School. My first thought was, “I can’t imagine going to school on Monday if we lose”. That was the first thing that came to my mind, and there are likely millions of student athletes thinking the same thing. With a loss, they have to deal with the feelings of disappointment and negativity around the school, peers, coaches, and in the community. No one likes to fail, but as a student-athlete you will fail plenty of times. But many of them don’t know how to properly deal with these issues because of support problems and no one is properly framing the issues for them.
As a former professional athlete and one who has experienced these pressures and pitfalls, it is very important for me to mentor these young athletes to help ensure their long-term success. It is critical to impress upon them how essential it is to build a strong foundation by having proper priorities, maintaining good character, good behavior, good attendance and good academic performance, and to understand what it takes to be successful and to be a true leader.
There are many factors that lead down a dark path for student athletes. Many student-athletes drop out of school or have poor academic performance. Let’s not only blame just the student-athlete, as we don’t know about the quality of their home. Sixty-five percent of African-American young men are living in single parent home run by the mother. A mother cannot fulfill all of the parenting roles by herself, so often the child’s guidance and development will suffer in one or more areas, with a failure in academics being a leading symptom.
Roughly 45% of students play sports in the schools systems. Of those 45% of student athletes, many are struggling with some unresolved issue. Unresolved pressure and stress leads to strains, depression, suicidal thoughts, drugs, alcohol, and poor coping mechanisms. Many will struggle against peer pressure, such as going to party where they will be underage drinking. Other symptoms of unresolved issues are a decrease in academic performance, poor behavior, bullying, intimidation or other anti-social behavior. These are problems that need to be resolved before our student-athletes get destroyed in the real world. Here again, a mentor can help.
I was a professional athlete, and as I look back, I understand everything you do has an impact, positive or negative; everything you say, everything you do, how you acted, and how those actions may be interpreted. Fans and detractors are watching to see if you succeed or fail. Every day cases are showcased in the media where a professional athlete broke the law, said something offensive, or let someone down. This can result in huge pressure and stress. When I see these failures, I wish I could have reached out to them.A high school athlete suffers from these same pressures, just on a smaller scale.Millions of high school student-athletes idolize their favorite professional athlete. But when a professional fails, many student-athletes are upset and frustrated because their role model let them down. Some student-athletes may imitate that same behavior because that’s what their favorite professional athlete did. A proper mentor can help be the male role model in the student athlete’s life that is willing to hold him accountable for his actions.
I’ve presented many issues and reasons why mentoring is needed for our student-athletes in our school systems. Mentoring can provide the student-athletes with the proper perspective, coping mechanisms, and a resource necessary for handling the stress of being an athlete – I know, I was a student-athlete. This can improve the behavior, attendance, academic performance, and help ensure the life-long success of the student-athletes. Because student-athletes are the leaders in the schools, mentoring to improve social performance will also have a positive on the entire culture of the school.