With the school year nearing its conclusion, final exams are a major hurdle for student-athletes.
While no one’s ever mistaken finals for a pleasant experience, just how much of a physical and mental toll they can take on a young athlete should not be underestimated. In fact, a study from the University of Missouri found college football players to be drastically more likely to get injured during high-academic stress weeks than low-academic stress weeks. From the UM News Bureau:
The researchers studied weekly injury reports for 101 student athletes on a Division 1 college football team during a 20-week season. Sixty different athletes had 86 injury restrictions during the season. The researchers found players were 3.19 times more likely to have an injury restriction during weeks when they had high academic stress, such as midterms or finals, than during weeks when they had low academic stress. When the researchers compared players’ injury restrictions for weeks of high physical stress – such as training camp – and weeks of low academic stress, athletes were 2.84 times more likely to have injury restrictions.
The effects were more pronounced for players listed as starters or first back-ups than they were for players further down the depth chart. Not only can stressful academic weeks lead to increased feelings of anxiety among student-athletes, but they may also have a negative impact on sleep and nutrition. This is why it’s so important for coaches to be aware of what’s going on in their athlete’s lives away from the field or outside of the weight room. Changes in a student-athlete’s mood can be an indicator of periods of high academic or social stress outside of sport.
“Stress is systemic,” Bryan Mann, an assistant professor of physical therapy in the MU School of Health Professions and assistant director of strength and conditioning for Mizzou Athletics, told the UM News Bureau. “Everything players deal with on a daily basis creates stress. They don’t have separate accounts to withdraw from for practice, school and relationships. Whenever there’s stress, something’s got to give. Otherwise, it’s similar to when unexpected expenses arise at the same time and you’re likely to overdraw your checking account. It’s the same idea but on a physiological basis rather than a monetary one.”
Mann recommends reducing the time or intensity of practice/training during high academic stress periods to account for this. A more long-term approach to this issue may be introducing psychological training on a team level, as research has found this can help team sport athletes combat the deleterious effects of stress and reduce overuse injuries.
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