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Stress In Athletes

Thinking about what it means to be a student-athletes calls to mind many different stereotypes and images. Some may think of jocks; they may picture football players or soccer fields. Anyone who is, or was, an athlete conjures up the scent of sweat and weight room mats and the excitement of competition. What slips the minds of many when they think of an athlete is mental strain, the internal and external pressures they face. Athletics, especially high school and college athletics are about the struggle to maintain a balance between dedication and obsession.

            There has been a lot of drama in the college sports world over the past few months. In January, a 19 year old track athlete, Madison Holleran, jumped to her death because of academic and athletic pressures. While I am not a track star at an Ivy League school, I am a female, freshman track athlete and can relate in part to the pressures Holleran must have faced. This tragic story hit very close to home as I struggled, with my teammates, to balance a fairly rigorous practice schedule, academic classes, a new lifestyle and atmosphere and a social life (at least occasionally.)

            One of my teammates and close friends, Danny Dugan, is from the same hometown as Holleran. He and his brother, who are both exceptional track athletes and students, face many stressors. Dugan explains that he gets satisfaction from his performance and success on the track. He sets very high standards for himself based on his own abilities, and also on the abilities of other athletes. One of the most toxic elements of track and field is that everything can be compared, every number crunched and someone is always, indisputably, the best. There is a fine line between being motivated by the accomplishments of the elite and being sucked into a demoralizing and futile game of comparisons.

            Another major event in college sports is the debate over whether or not college athletes should unionize to help minimize stress and maximize benefits. Northwestern recently formed the first union of collegiate athletes and it has the potential to change the face of college sports. If athletes become employees, the implications are staggering. There would be an expectation to pay the athletes and to compensate them for medical bills etc. I do not think that his is the solution to reducing stress on collegiate athletes. These unions would only benefit popular sports such as men’s football and basketball. . This sort of system would only draw money away from other, already under-funded programs like track and field, volleyball, etc.

Many of the athletes whom a union would benefit are essentially being paid with scholarships for thousands of dollars. Most schools cover medical expenses if insurance will not. While a union does not seem to be the answer, schools do need to ensure certain benefits and adequate care for athletes. In addition to the typical athletic training room for sports injuries, colleges should have sports psychologists on staff. Informative workshops on how to handle stress, specifically for athletes, should supplement the typical workshops on drug use and concussions.

There are tools that institutions can provide student athletes to help them manage stress, and these are crucial. However, much of the pressure an athlete faces are internal. Competition is in our nature and performance is our driving force. The most important instrument in stress management for athletes is recognizing that they are playing a sport that they should enjoy. No one can eliminate the stress of competition, which is why we play and run and train. We must remember that there is a fine line between dedication and obsession; and it is important to realize which side of the line we stand on.Image

Running App: KindSole

My app is for runners and athletes who wear down their sneakers constantly. A worn shoe can lead to a plethora of problems, including knee pain, hip misalignment and issues with foot pronation or supination. There is a general rule about getting new running shoes every 300-500 miles but, without religious documentation it can be difficult to remember just when that is. I know I often forget to include my warm up and cool down in my mileage, and this can be over 10 miles per week. The app, KindSole, uses the phone camera to take a picture of the sole of the shoe (side view) and compares it to a database of running shoes. It compares the width of the sole and estimates how worn down the shoes are. Then, a second picture of the treads of the sneaker will ensure accuracy. The app could even be paired with NikePlus and track mileage and then send a warning to the runner when they need new shoes. In the future, KindSole could be expanded to make recommendations for types of shoes that would be best for the runner based on wear patterns. Wear patterns are a good indication of gait and show the type of foot-striking. These are very simple but valuable things for runners to be aware of. This app would make it easier to know when to change sneakers to prevent injury and maximize performance.

Politics vs Olympics

The Olympics is one of the few occasions where young, fit, passionate representatives from many nations gather in a single location without declaring war. Yet, every four years, some new political issue crops up surrounding the games. For instance, this year, the winter games are plagued with threats of terrorism and warranted backlash against Russia’s anti-gay policies. In 1968, the problem du jour was a protest against the lack of civil rights in the United States, when Tommie Smith and John Carlos each did the Black Power salute at the awards podium. One of my high school coaches was a silver medalist at the 1968 Games in New Mexico and he attested to the fact that political tensions were high. As a black man, he was asked to boycott the Olympics. He refused, believing that competing and proving his worth on an international stage made a more valuable statement.

The Munich Massacre was a far more severe example of political tension. Palestinian terrorists captured and then brutally murdered 11 Israeli coaches and athletes during the 1972 Munich Games. The Munich police were underprepared and the German army was not permitted to maneuver during peacetime (http://www.olympic.org/munich-1972-summer-olympics ). In this case, many of the events were misreported in the media, creating confusion and an inaccurate portrayal of facts. For example, it was first reported that all attackers had been killed and that the hostages were safe, when in reality, all the hostages had been killed. Media has the power to increase or muffle political tensions and incidents.

Since more people than ever have access to the media, more people are influenced than ever before. I think part of the reason the political issues of the Sochi Olympics are so hotly contended is due in part to the media coverage of the issues. There are certainly biased news sources, and some people are getting their information that way. The Olympics are intended to entertain but, they are inextricably intertwined with politics and viewers should be sure to get the whole story from varied news sources to prevent tensions and false impressions. Keep the spirit of friendly and wholesome competition in the Games, without allowing them become overshadowed with political issues.

Fans at the 2014 Sochi Games
Fans at the 2014 Sochi Games (http://america.aljazeera.com/content/ajam/multimedia/photo-gallery/2014/2/photos-sochi-2014winterolympics/_jcr_content/slideShowImages/slide6/image.adapt.960.high.jpg)

Headlines depicting the horrors at the Olympics in Munich
Headlines depicting the horrors at the Olympics in Munich
(http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-tlSRgiTJsXk/UBc_YGJ0NnI/AAAAAAAAGdY/5VMAi1dEPvM/s1600/Munich+Massacre.jpg)

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