High school athletes experiencing increased anxiety during COVID-19

Shelly Haberman
Chris Schattschneider

How are our high school athletes handing the pandemic? Not well according to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine. After polling more than 3,000 high school athletes in all but one Wisconsin county during the spring, researchers found that 68 percent had symptoms of depression and a 50 percent reduction in physical activity. 

“While these are alarming numbers, they are not surprising having worked with this population for over 25 years,” according to Chris Schattschneider, MS, LAT, PES, athletic training lead at Ripon Medical Center, a member of Agnesian HealthCare. Agnesian HealthCare is part of SSM Health. “Athletes are highly competitive and social. They thrive on challenges and team activities.” 

Athletic trainers can draw upon their previous work with injured athletes to help during this unprecedented time.

“An injured athlete that is removed from play can lose their identity, lose connections with friends and feel worthless very similar to the data shared previously,” Schattschneider explains. “Like an injured athlete, a sidelined pandemic athlete will need to set goals to stay motivated.  A football player may need to focus on his strength training and speed numbers, a volleyball player could pick their vertical jump as a goal, and a cross country runner might sign up for virtual 5k races.”

Schattschneider says it is important to encourage athletes to connect with their coach and teammates.

“When they voice concerns and fears, listen without judging,” he says. “Adolescent brain development can make it difficult to think past the here and now. In my experience, an athlete in this age group wouldn’t think twice about playing on an injured body part even with warnings of future consequences.  Living in the present during a pandemic can make it difficult to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Reminding athletes that there will be opportunity to play sports in the future will help, as well as providing them with shorter term goals to keep their interest. School guidance counselors or school nurses can assist by sharing available mental health resources that can offer coping skills.

“Working through things together as a family and as a team will be the most productive,” Schattschneider stresses. “Stay in touch with your student whether they play sports or not. Help them manage their anxiety and be a good listener. Create good family memories when you can and stay positive about the future.”

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