Tribe Athletics committed to student-athlete mental wellness


College students have a lot on their plate. Be it classes and studying, navigating living alone and newfound independence or managing a busy social life, it is no easy task to balance the plethora of responsibilities. Add Division I athletics to this set of responsibilities and the list expands. The mental health of student-athletes has become increasingly prominent, with constant news coverage on the tragedies that occur within college athletics and a newfound focus by programs on supporting student-athletes across the country.

William and Mary has over 500 student-athletes who athletics department staff and professionals seek to aid and support as best as possible. 

“Our students are not fragile, but they are vulnerable,” Director of Performance Psychology for Tribe Athletics Dr. Deidre Connelly said.

The average day-to-day responsibilities and expectations of student-athletes are so immense that managing one’s mental health can be challenging. It is far more than just the games that they play on the weekend. Many people may not understand the hours of commitment outside of the reports and final scores of games. Practices, early morning lifts, recovery, treatment, film, class, tutoring and so much more are all part of the daily life of student-athletes. Balancing this is no easy task and it takes a toll on the mental health of many student-athletes.

Women’s volleyball sophomore setter Amy Schwem is passionate about spreading awareness for athlete mental health at William and Mary. She is a Campus Captain for The Hidden Opponent, a national organization centered around breaking the stigma surrounding the discussion about mental health, specifically in athletics and sport culture. 

“Just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to struggle with your mental health,” Schwem said. “I think that in the athletic community, we are brought up to always be tough and that has translated to a lot of people struggling behind closed doors. Mental health and mental health challenges don’t discriminate. They apply to everyone. I think that a lot of people think that you have to go through some massive catastrophic trauma in order to struggle, and that’s not true. Life itself is stressful and challenging and there are going to be highs and lows that do cause you to struggle and that is perfectly okay.”

Women’s soccer sophomore midfielder Amelia Suchora has also felt firsthand the challenges of balancing athletics and academics, and understands the importance of being mindful of her mental health.

“As a student-athlete, it’s hard to not base yourself on your performance on the field,” Suchora said. “It’s easy to have a bad game or practice and feel your confidence go down.”

Suchora stresses the importance of having outlets outside of her sport, such as her involvement in other organizations and making an intentional effort to spend time with friends to take breaks from soccer and academics.

William and Mary is active in implementing and strengthening efforts to support its student-athletes. It has implemented mindfulness sessions and mental wellness programming, and has encouraged communication between student-athletes, staff and professionals to cultivate an inclusive and accommodating environment for student athletes to be successful. On campus, there is a Suicide Prevention Coalition that offers resources for individuals in crisis. There are also trained professionals that student-athletes have access to, as well as programs that assess the mental and physical of student-athletes to best target their training plan and general treatment. Both William and Mary and the NCAA at large have worked hard to have the best possible support for their athletes.

“At the start, we were one of only four schools to have a sports psychologist, so we have always kind of been on the forefront of all of this,” Connelly said. “Athletes operate in pressure situations and try to be good in two different areas, sports and academics. You tend to get people who are pretty high achievers and driven, not unlike the rest of the students here. It’s a vulnerable population.” 

Connelly feels that it is essential to meet the individual needs of each athlete and offer resources to them accordingly.

“Athletes go through clearance at the start of every year,” She said. “You have to be medically cleared to participate. So those are called clearances. At clearances, they come through my station, they fill out a very brief mental health form and at that point we give them resources, on campus, in their departments, in the community.”

Connelly stressed the importance of accessibility, confidentiality and comfort in creating an environment where athletes feel comfortable asking for help and utilizing the resources that William and Mary has to offer.

Schwem is grateful for the resources of Tribe Athletics and the staff who support each student-athlete individually, as well as those who encourage systemic change and progress to be made regarding mental health, such as their adoption of The Hidden Opponent organization on campus. 

“I have had nothing but positive things to say as far as support,” Schwem said. “The fact that we have an administration that is willing to be a part of it and help, this is a lot more than I think most students in a lot of programs say they have.”

Both Suchora and Schwem value their wellness surveys and check-ins that their teams conduct every day. The surveys seek to identify how student-athletes feel physically and mentally, as well as assess aspects like recovery and sleep to tailor their workouts and practices to align with their physical and mental well-being of the day. This personalized approach to athletics is one fundamental way to make every athlete feel seen and to ensure that despite their roles as both students and athletes, they are first and foremost treated as a person. 

The conversation surrounding mental health is progressing. With individuals like Suchora and Schwem advocating for themselves as athletes and students, as well as staff members like Connelly supporting the student-athletes, mental health will continue to be a chief issue for all those involved in Tribe Athletics.

Athletes and staff alike are optimistic about future efforts regarding mental health. It is now commonly accepted that mental health is just as important as physical health, so William and Mary and Tribe Athletics are working hard to share and support that ideal. 

Schwem encourages all people to be open about their mental health and ask for help when needed.

“Being able to speak up, even if it’s just in a small way or if it affects just one person, goes a long way,” Schwem said.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here