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Social Work in Sports, a Game Changer (By Madison Hale)

There are many different vulnerabilities that athletes face throughout their competitive years. Research shows the various types of risks athletes face and it is broken down into different areas of focus such as behavioral health, gambling, and sexual assault, etc. These risks factors correlate with known stressors of being both a student and an athlete. From a behavioral health perspective, college athletes may experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sleep disorders, learning disabilities, substance abuse, and other risks. Athletes that participate in appearance-based sports, figure-skating, wrestling, and swimming are at a higher risk of developing eating disorders.

One of the most overlooked vulnerabilities or risks of being a college athlete is gambling. Gambling does not present in the stereotypical view of casinos or how movies portray it, but rather as sport-related gambling events. Example are fantasy sports, placing bets on other college sporting events, as well as their own events. Another concern facing collegiate level athletes is the exposure to sexual assault. The concerns of sexual assault come from dating violence, safety of college campuses, while some athletes are accused of being the perpetrator of an assault.

At the heart of the vulnerabilities are the factors that impact whether or not an athlete seeks proper guidance for possible behavioral health and psychological risks. I personally spoke with a variety of current and former college athletes while I reviewed the literature of research. The athletes cited a loss of playing time, athletic identity, athletic culture, and service barriers as reasons to not seek this support. The findings raise awareness to the need of accessible services for athletes as well as the need for a deeper understanding surrounding athlete mental health. Athletes need to have someone to discuss daily life problems, money concerns, drugs and alcohol, along with ongoing defeating attitudes towards their performance and academics.

Throughout my research into vulnerabilities and barriers it was simple to determine athletes need our help, however it would be most beneficial to break down the role that social workers can play in addressing these vulnerabilities. There should be a team that includes a variety of professionals to provide the necessary assessment, treatment, and follow up services. As social workers, we should be less concerned about the next big game, but more concerned about the game of life. If an athletic department isn’t going to include a social worker, they need to, as a staff, consider the mental health and wellness of themselves. As they show they care and address their own vulnerabilities, the athletes will also see the need to follow through as well. This will encourage athletes to learn coping skills that work for them or access services offered within the community or other departments on campus such as the counseling center. To members of the social work field, it is in our best interest to advocate for maximizing wellness in all capacities of athletes lives in order to promote change towards the betterment of the athlete mental, physical, social, emotional well-being.

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