How Stress Off the Field Can Lead to Injuries On the Field

A study out of the University of Missouri found a significant correlation between injuries on the field and academic stress.

When athletes sign up to play football, they know about the injury risks. However, some athletes don't know how stress off the field can cause them to get injured on the field.

A research study published by the MU News Bureau assessed the injuries of members of the 2011 University of Missouri football team. The researchers, who took the injury reports from the trainers at the end of each week, noticed large spikes of injuries during certain weeks of school.

Bryan Mann, who led the study, had been a Division-I strength and conditioning coach since 1999, and joined the faculty in 2012. He is now an Assistant Teaching Professor for Physical Therapy and Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. Mann concluded that the weeks with large spikes of injuries coincided with weeks of school that had higher stressors— such as midterm exams, final exams and vacations. Athletes were three times more likely to sustain an injury during those time periods than they were in training camp.

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In a video summarizing the study, Mann says, "What that means is that the athlete is actually more likely to get hurt during a testing week than they are during training camp."

Even though the spikes coincided with weeks of testing in schools, the study could not determine the specific stressors. The source of the stress could have been academics, but it could also have been relationship trouble, family problems or some other aspect of an athlete's life.

Mann says, "Stress is systemic; it works in the body the same way regardless of what the stress is." He suggests what coaches can do to prevent excessive stress on their athletes. When coaches know about a week of high academic stress, they can keep their practices at the same intensity but shorten their length, or replace some physical drills with technical drills.

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"You cannot account for when somebody's loved one is going to pass away, or when somebody's significant other is going to have a fight with them, but you can account for when these traditional testing periods will be," says Mann. Other ways to combat stress and reduce injuries during those periods include taking it a little easier during practice and encouraging players to seek academic assistance. Most schools have tutoring programs or advisor programs athletes can use if they need help.

Mann suggests another good way to alleviate stress is meditation. You can clear your mind and reduce stress even if your school lacks those kinds of resources.

The Missouri study was done with college football athletes, but its finding can relate to any sport at any level. Mann says his study is absolutely relevant for high school student-athletes, especially those who are concerned about maintaining their eligibility .

Regardless of your level of play, you can reduce the likelihood of injuries from academic stress by staying prepared and using your school resources to stay healthy for your sport.


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