Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Athletic Participation and Wellness: Implications for Counseling College Student-Athletes

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Athletic Participation and Wellness: Implications for Counseling College Student-Athletes

Article excerpt

This study used a holistic wellness paradigm to explore the adjustment of student-athletes and nonathletes at a Division I institution. Results were that nonathletes reported higher levels of wellness than did student-athletes. The authors discuss the ways in which wellness may affect student-athletes' physical and mental health at different points in time during their collegiate experience. Implications for college counselors and other student affairs professionals who support student-athletes are presented.

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Each year, more than 360,000 students participate in intercollegiate athletic programs sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (n.d.). Although many student-athletes find participation in intercollegiate athletics to be rewarding, a growing number also will experience issues related to adjustment problems, emotional concerns, and psychological distress as a result of their participation (Watson, 2005). In fact, approximately 10% to 15% of college student-athletes experience psychological issues that could warrant professional counseling (Hinkle, 1994; Murray, 1997; Parham, 1993). Compared with the campuswide averages of 8% to 9% reported in the 2005 National Survey of Counseling Center Directors (Gallagher, 2005), these estimates suggest that college counselors would benefit from a better understanding of the factors affecting the physical health, mental health, and well-being of college student-athletes.

Student-athletes represent a unique, clearly identifiable, college student subpopulation. Although, on one hand, they are commonly venerated for their athletic aptitude and success and on many campuses enjoy celebrity status, on the other hand, this acclaim often obscures the heightened challenges they encounter as they attempt to balance the dual roles of student and athlete. In addition to managing many of the same academic, emotional, and personal goals and concerns as their nonathlete peers, student-athletes also must manage several unique challenges associated with their athletic participation (Broughton & Neyer, 2001). Among these are balancing academic and athletic demands (Pinkney, 1991), coping with physical injury (Parham, 1993), dealing with role conflict predicated by athletic participation (Pinkerton, Hinz, & Barrow, 1989), developing outside social and leisure interests (Astin, 1978; Lanning, 1982), forming interpersonal relationships (Parham, 1993), managing sports-related career transitions (Pearson & Petipas, 1990), and maintaining optimal physical conditioning (Danish, Petipas, & Hale, 1993). Oftentimes, the convergence of these elements manifests as emotional, physical, or developmental difficulties for student-athletes. Given the combination of adjustment, developmental, and mental health challenges athletic participation poses and the heightened need for counseling or other specialized support services student-athletes appear to experience, previous authors have called for the implementation of counseling approaches focusing on the development of the student-athlete as a total person (Danish & Hale, 1981; Ferrante, Etzel, & Lantz, 1996). To this end, we suggest that a wellness approach might prove to be an effective perspective to take when working with student-athletes.

Wellness Approach

Conceptually, wellness models are a close fit with the college student development models most often used on today's campuses. Whereas previous wellness models focused primarily on physical health, today's counseling-based wellness models aim to develop the whole person and enhance the overall college student experience. The term wellness is now most frequently associated on college and university, campuses with programs designed to increase the health and well-being of the student population (cf. Granello, 1999; Sivik, Butts, Moore, & Hyde, 1992; Warner, 1985). In such programs, wellness is defined as "a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being in which the body, mind, and spirit are integrated by the individual to live more fully" (Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000, p. …

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