Former Ohio State University Football Player
Being honest with yourself and with others about how you are doing is essential.
I first started playing football in the second grade; I had a lot of fun on the field, and from then on, I was always playing sports from football to baseball to lacrosse. When I reached high school, I decided to pursue football exclusively.
I played well in high school, achieved a five-star rating from some recruiting sites, and ranked as the #1 center in the country. With that recognition, I was able to commit to The Ohio State University in the summer before my junior year.
Playing at OSU was the height of my athletic career. I got to play alongside future pros like Justin Fields, J.K. Dobbins, and Chase Young. That year, we made it to the National Championship, although the season ended with a tough loss to Alabama.
Student-athletes today face the pressure of performing on the field, experiencing stress around scholarships, and facing body image issues in the case of female athletes. I often wished mental health was more talked about. At the time, I felt student-athletes were expected to handle the pressures and stresses independently. I had pushed off dealing with it and avoided talking about it.
Although I had some great times at OSU, it was also the most pressure I experienced. It was challenging to take late-night flights on the weekend after games just to get back for a few hours of sleep before practice the next day. The whole time I was doing this, I had to manage the workload as an engineering student. Practices, lab reports, games, and exams filled my schedule. I often felt stressed and overwhelmed. And when I did feel these ways, I would isolate myself and not talk to others, which would only worsen these feelings.
Football took up so much of my life that I started to neglect other aspects of sports and life, like friendship, health, and the practice of discipline. I learned quickly that I would need healthy coping strategies. I explored playing guitar, reading, writing, getting into nature, and forcing myself to talk to my friends.
Honesty is critical. Being honest with yourself and with others about how you are doing is essential. Do not be afraid to reach out for help. You should not feel shame if you are struggling or feeling unwell. Sports are hard and not designed to be breezed through; you will get beat and feel scared. I know I was. Just remember that the feeling is natural, and you are not wrong for feeling it. Better yet, you have the chance to overcome it.
My advice to parents and coaches is to listen. You don’t have to lower standards but instead exemplify them. Harsh or arrogant attitudes of coaches are unproductive. My favorite coaches were the ones who treated me with respect and who answered my questions.
For student-athletes, I emphasize the importance of open communication. When I felt my worst, I isolated myself, which lowered my health even more. So, be honest. Don’t be afraid to care. Don’t be afraid to fail. There are things more valuable than trophies.
It is hard to find a more noble relationship between the coach and the player, the mentor and the mentee. Enjoy it, and treat that relationship with the utmost respect.