4 Pillars of Student Athlete Success

After a few weeks away, I'm back in action! It was great to spend time with family, friends, and soak up all the puppy snuggles!  One of my family members asked how my quest to be mindful during my break was going. Much like any mindfulness quest, it ebbed and flowed. It was great to sit in spaces away from distractions and truly connect with those I value. Another added benefit was wrapping my mind around my sport psychology work and what I want to communicate to all of you! 

I've worked with athletes for 10 years and really work to conceptualize how to help you athletes be your best. Over the years, I've learned there are 4 areas student athletes are balancing at any given moment. I like to call them the 4 Pillars of Student Athlete Success.

1. Athletics

Obviously, a large part of being a student athlete is...being an athlete (shocker, I know). To be successful, you need to train not only physically but mentally. The importance of mental training is even greater as we get to higher levels of competition; it can often be the 1% that separates high performing athletes.

You also need to commit to a high level of training and work every day to get better. That's incredibly difficult to do when we're wrapped up in the grind of preseason or a long season that's not going your way.

There are 2 more factors that are incredibly important to high performance athletics: nutrition and sleep. You'd be surprised just how many athletes are not fueling their bodies properly or not getting adequate rest and expect to be high performers!

2. Academics

Another obvious large part of being a student athlete...academics. For some of you, academics are important to help maintain eligibility, whereas for others they are important because you know your sport is not going to be your career. Or maybe you're an athlete that knows you'll play sports professionally and your grades are important to you. Regardless, you need to pay attention to academics. It's one of your roles. 

The transition from high school to college sport is a difficult time for many of you. You go from having structure provided by high school teachers, mentors, parents, etc. to providing some of your structure on your own.

Yes, your team and university will provide some of this structure for you, but you have to take some responsibility, too. There are numerous campus resources to help you be successful, including your professors. Many students aren't sure how to talk to professors and utilize them as resources. It's a great skill to learn, so of course I'll address it in future posts!

Demands also change as we progress through college, where we are at in the competitive season, etc. So you need to know how to manage this aspect of your life.

3. Relationships

When I talk about relationships, I often mean in the broad sense, not just romantic relationships. It's so important that you invest in relationships (friendships, mentorships, romantic relationships) is choosing ones that help you grow and get better. Surround yourself with people that help you move toward your goals NOT away from your goals. That's how relationships help you be successful and how you help others be successful.

Your life is filled with relationships: family, friends, faith, professors, teammates, coaches, team physicians, athletic trainers, fans, athletic directors...the list goes on and on. These relationships are important to you and influence you whether you acknowledge it or not.

You need to learn how to have good relationships and communicate effectively with others. If your relationships are disrupted or not good for you, it's going to take away from resources you can use to be a better student-athlete. 

4. You

Taking care of yourself and your own well-being is simply the most important piece. If you're not doing well, how can you expect to perform well in other areas? Sure, you may be able to turn it into a "make it work" moment for awhile, but eventually the house of cards is going to crumble. The reality is we ALL need to take care of ourselves. Keep in mind, this means something different for everyone. But you need to know what that means for you.

There are some factors that apply to all student athletes. Emotions are a part of life and a part of the game. We either manage our emotions or they manage us. I'm sure you can think of numerous examples of both sides.

It's also important to have good coping skills. Being a student athlete is STRESSFUL. If nothing else, you're managing many different roles, some of which may feel incompatible at times. Feeling stressed by it doesn't mean you're weak. It means you're human. We all feel stress sometimes. 

One final piece is your own mental health. We know that approximately 1 in 4 student-athletes experience mental health difficulties (meaning a diagnosed condition). That's what we know at this point. It could be even higher than that and actually is higher than that for some diagnoses.

Here's the interesting part. You may not even realize one of your teammates is struggling. You might not even realize you're struggling. That's why we need to talk about it and deal with it. Ignoring it isn't going to make it go away. We also need to get rid of the stigma around mental health difficulties, especially in athletes. How do we expect each other to get help if we talk badly about it? And yes, you will be hearing more about this aspect from me :)

Keep in mind your focus on each of these pillars will shift depending upon your responsibilities and priorities. But they're all important. If one of the 4 legs of a table is out of balance, the table will wobble and possibly tip.

The 4 Pillars of Student Athlete Success are the same. If one of these is not in order, you're performance is going to suffer. It doesn't mean you have to be perfect. I means you need to pay attention and work to be in good balance for yourself. 

This semester my blog posts will focus on tips and resources to help you keep these pillars in balance. The cool thing is that these tips apply to all 4 pillars and life well beyond sport. In reality, these tips are helpful for anyone and are often things I apply in my own life. If you have areas you want to hear about, let me know. I love feedback (it helps us all grow, right?)! I'll be blogging every other week, which allows me to give time to some other cool sport psychology things I'm doing this semester.  

Dr. Erin Haugen is a licensed clinical psychologist and sport/performance psychologist located in Grand Forks, ND. She specializes in helping college student-athletes excel in sports and in life. She is a former basketball player, current triathlete, and LOVES dogs.


Disclaimer: You should consult an appropriate professional for specific advice tailored to your situation. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, you should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.