by Greg Carroll, Tudor Collegiate Strategies
Last week I tweeted out an article that summarized data from a Gallup / Lumina Foundation State of the Student Experience Survey that provided insight into the depth of the mental health crisis facing every campus in the country. It seems almost every week there is a new article or study speaking about this topic, each affirming findings from a previous study. In fact, Dan Tudor’s most recent podcast featured the topic as he had Lauren Ammon, a consultant specializing in the mental aspects of athletic performance, as a special guest.
The bottom line is that students in general are struggling.
The Gallup / Lumina survey poll consisted of 7,666 currently enrolled students in either bachelor’s, associates, or certificate programs and 3,002 prospective student (recruiting class of 2022’s).
Here are some of the numbers:
- More than three-quarters (76%) of four-year undergraduate students who considered stopping out in the past six months said it was due to emotional stress, according to a new survey from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation. That’s up from just 42% in 2020.
- Nearly two-thirds of associate degree students said the same, up from 24% in 2020. Among bachelor’s and associate degree students, about one-third cited the pandemic and attendance costs impacting their ability to remain enrolled.
- Thirty-six percent of bachelor’s program students and four in 10 students working toward associate degrees reported it was “difficult” or “very difficult” to stay enrolled in the 2021-22 school year. Students of color, including Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students, and multiracial students, were most likely to report challenges.
The topic of mental health and athletics hits close to my heart. During the winter season in 2018 the school where I was the athletic director had three separate instances of athletes threatening to do harm to themselves in the same month. Soon after we took several steps to most importantly, help our athletes but also let everyone know that we were listening and we had a plan.
You may be wondering “great idea, but how does this tie into recruiting?” My response is that it has everything to do with recruiting. From the most simple level it is about retention of the athletes you worked so hard to recruit. You recruited them under the premise that you had their back. Being aware of the red flags for an athlete suffering from stress, depression, anxiety, or all three is a responsibility you took on when you told them you had their back.
Second, having a plan for overall wellness is a recruiting opportunity. It’s another opportunity to put yourself at the front of your recruit’s line by talking openly about your awareness of the additional stress some athletes feel about performance academically, athletically, and socially. By incorporating points about your approach to overall student athlete wellness as part of the personalized plan for your athletes’ development you put your program at the forefront of schools they are considering.
So what does a program look like? Here are a few ideas:
- A couple years ago I was on a campus and as I entered the athletic center there was a 4’x8’ white board that read “Share Some Good News And Brighten Your Day”. It was filled with comments about going home to see friends, a grade on a paper or test, a big win the day before, birthdays, and countless other things. I thought that was a great way to display that great things are happening within that department every day and all you have to do is look around to see them. It also sent a message to everyone that walked in that building.
- Bulletin boards with campus and community resources are essential. It’s important to include resources OFF CAMPUS as many students are sensitive to word about their soliciting help, at least initially. Furthermore, many campuses simply don’t have the resources to see the number of students in need of a session. You need to know the resources available around your community.
- Every athletic department needs to have training on “SafeTalk” or some other program designed to help coaches become comfortable talking about suicide. We did it at my school and honestly, it was very hard for most of us to even say the words “kill yourself” but it has to be something you can do if you find yourself dealing with an athlete in crisis.
- Build a strong partnership with your counseling center. Even if they are under staffed they will find the time to train you on guidance for what to do when that crisis hits at 1 a.m. on a Saturday night. That happened several times on my watch!
- Be aware of what stresses your athletes are facing. The Gallup/Lumina study found the leading cause of stress among students was cost of attendance and concern about the value of getting their degree. Talk to your athletes about having a long view for what their degree will provide. Collect data from your career placement office, connect them with former players now doing well professionally, make career planning an important part of your program. It can be one more piece of your “personalized plan for their development.”
- Find an expert to partner with. In my case we sought guidance from Dr. Jarrod Spencer and his organization “Mind of the Athlete”. Jarrod was terrific with our athletes and that turned into a conversation with our conference where he did training for athletic directors and also our SAAC. Suddenly every single school in the conference had access to resources.
Much of what I’m talking about here was part of the NCAA Champ Life Skills program that was shelved several years ago.
There are a lot of great reasons to be sensitive to your athletes’ overall wellness (general health, spiritual health, and mental health). None is more important than their well being. But if you are committed and truly “all in” not only are you caring for your athletes and reassuring their families, you are moving mental health forward in the same way Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Naomi Osaka, and a host of others have done and putting YOUR program at the front of the line.
If you have questions about how you can better incorporate mental health wellness in your recruiting and on your team, contact Greg Carroll at email@example.com.