SUMMER SCHOOL ZONE: The importance of mental health on athletes

Gabriel Gonzalez writes about his personal experience with mental health issues while participating in high school sports.

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  • | 4:09 p.m. July 6, 2022
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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When first starting sports, most people typically play to have fun and make new connections, but as time goes on sports becomes more competitive and can be really time consuming and stressful. It’s easy to get caught up in athletics and not realize the effects it may have on an athlete's mental health.

When I went out to the track my freshman year for cross country in the fall, I was not prepared for what was ahead of me, nor did I know what to expect. I was new out of middle school, and I had no idea what my campus was like because I was doing virtual learning. All I knew was that I wanted to be a part of a sport and get involved with my school. For the first months of cross country, I was having fun with my teammates, but cross country came to an end, which meant the beginning of the track-and-field season in January.

At that point I started to take running more seriously and wanted to make more improvements. I started to run every day in December to prepare for the upcoming season. The season rolled around, and I was breaking goals that I set for myself. I was happy with the direction the track season went and was excited to start the new school year off better.

The start of the new school year began, but this time it was in person. I was involved in my school's yearbook club, and I was promoted to a higher position which was a big responsibility to me. With yearbook club and athletics it would sometimes get hard to balance the two.

At practice it was a struggle from feeling exhausted from the school day and waking up early. Every day felt like a constant repeat of the same thing — school, practice, eat, sleep. With little to no teammates on the long-distance team, I felt pressured into staying on the team, which made me feel overwhelmed with all that was going on. The pressure did not stop when track season started, which was more demanding, and I was elected onto my school’s executive board, which made everything going on more overwhelming.  

With all that was happening in my life I was drowning in work and responsibilities. After time I fell out of love with running competitively. I still continued to run cross country and track, but it felt forced to go to practice every day.

After a little while, I set my priorities straight and knew what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to focus on what mattered the most to me, which was the club activities I was involved in.

From setting priorities I realized what I wanted the most out of life, and how I could take my mental health more seriously. It’s important to make yourself aware of your mental health and realize that it’s OK to do what you feel is best for yourself.

I was recently attending a summer camp and my friend told me, “If you aren’t happy doing it, then it’s not for you.” I stick with what my friend said because it doesn’t just apply to sports; it applies to everyday things. We may never know what is going on in an athlete's head, but that is why it is important to check up on them because you never know how their mental health may


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