The dark side of Friday Night Lights

Abby Dykes

More stories from Abby Dykes

A week in Denmark
November 30, 2021

Pom-poms, cowbells, jerseys–what is high school without Friday night football games? The adrenaline surging through the student section after the excitement of a touchdown is a feeling that cannot be bought. Sports are a place to form lifelong friendships and build habits to last a lifetime, but the dark side of sports is rarely talked about. The question is, when does it become too much? 

Everyone’s an athlete, or at least knows one. For the most part, people will say that sports impacted their lives positively. Many athletes think that stress and other anxious feelings caused by their sport is normal, with healthy consequences. Mental health experts would disagree. 

Many student-athletes have high-stress levels and negative thoughts. The pressure of school, a social/ family life, and their competitive sport can amount to a lot of anxiety. Sport settings are capable of producing this tension in the nearly eight million American high school student-athletes. 

Athletes need to understand that their mental health is just as important as their physical health–if not more.”

According to Marshall Mintz, a sports psychologist from New Jersey, the main cause of the lack of mental well-being in athletes is sleep deprivation. 

Mintz says that the largest problem is sleep loss, which is a big contributor to anxiety and depression. 

As a student-athlete myself, I often worry when I’ll have time to do my schoolwork. Most sports practices begin directly after school, sometimes not ending until around five p.m. The student then needs to eat dinner, shower, finish their homework, and get ready for the next school day. On top of this, they are also expected to spend quality time with their families, along with enough alone time to focus on themselves. 

Mental health isn’t the only concerning factor; each year, there are 2.6 million emergency hospital visits for young athletes ranging from ages five to twenty-four. Studies have continuously shown that athletes feel pressured by their coaches to play, even when they’re injured–and more than half of these teens end up playing while hurt. Statistics reveal that 90 percent of student-athletes report some sort of sports-related injury.

Athletes need to understand that their mental health is just as important as their physical health–if not more. They cannot play well if they’re distracted or unhappy. At the end of the day, sports are for fun. Sure, a little competitiveness can always keep things exciting, but when it gets to the point where high school athletes around the nation are experiencing depression at a higher rate than ever, we might need to realize it’s time to step back and think: are sports that important?