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The Need for Proactive Care of Adolescent Male Athletes

Updated: Apr 15

The male sports star is an idol young athletes aspire to be. They hold their older peers in high regard for their athletic successes, ability, and the perceived glamour that social media is portraying. Male athletes are specifically admired for their strength and image and less about who they are as people (Stoyle et el.2021). In general, the machoism behavior often exhibited by male athletes is celebrated and those who choose a sport that does not express masculine traits are commonly trivialized. It is due to this emasculated projection of the male athlete that young males in sports are conditioned to disregard injury, normalize pain, and become conditioned to remaining strong and stoic, despite how they may be feeling. (Souter et al.2018) “Male athletes can be viewed as superhuman, and the impact of their emotional wellbeing is frequently overlooked.” (Souter, Lewis, Serant.2018. para 3). It is the goal of this paper to disprove the hypothesis that adolescent male athletes are not susceptible to developing social and emotional problems in the future because of the way they are currently conditioned in sports and viewed as male athletes. In this review, the need for Mental Performance Coaches at the High School level is proposed as a form of proactive care and a gateway to encourage adolescence towards future sports psychology support in college, proactive measures towards improved self-care and prevention of suicide in young men by encouraging balance in their formative years.

Literature Review

Despite ongoing strenuous attempts to create equality between men and women in sports, notably with the creation of Title 1X in the college system, women still lack the coverage and support in both the media and financially to even come close to the average male professional athlete. This constant media focus on the struggle for equality in sport for women has overshadowed the silent damage that is occurring to young male collegiate and professional athletes who are encouraged to normalize violence with scant regard for one’s health (Messner et al.2007). According to Hurley et al. (2016) the constant stigma towards mental health is ever present in male athletes and the current form of mental health education is inadequate due to poor literacy rates in boys(para.4). Owing to societal masculine norms, young men are less like to access psychology support offered at colleges, speak out or seek help which in turn delays treatment. (Hurley et al.2016).

Boys don’t cry. Boys use sport as an outlet to express themselves and manage mental anguish. While this response may be therapeutically impactful while the athlete is still playing sports, they are often unable to replace this coping mechanism during injury and retirement (Hurley et al. 2016.para.3). Researchers are aware of the impact of concussions, the male athlete’s inability to seek help, and the post traumatic conditions that may occur from subsequent head injuries in college and professional sports but to date little has been proposed of how we get ahead of this trajectory or how we can introduce proactive treatment to encourage male athletes to disclose information pertaining from the stress of sports (Hutchison et al. 2018, para 1).

Limitations Mental Health. In order to examine the effect of sport on a male athlete’s mental health, research has predominately focused on the current reactive system that addresses the conditions once it arises, the athlete is already depressed or later from what has been shared by former athletes in retirement. McLoughlin et al.(2023) provides recent research which outlines that the demands of sport on athletes are often detrimental to their mental health (para. 5). Researchers and sport psychologists have focused on providing coping mechanisms via stress management for athletes but little research to date has addressed the need for proactive self-care education for athletes in adolescence.

Suicide Prevention. As Rao et al.( 2015 ) outlines in a report on the suicide risk of NCAA collegiate athletes, the male athlete population is at the most risk with the footballers being the most susceptible to mental health conditions (para.9).Due to the high achieving nature of an athlete and the masculine image projected in the media, this consequently results in a higher prevalence of mental health conditions that go undetected due to the reluctance of these athletes to seek help (Montero et al.2022). If young male athletes were conditioned to seek mental health support, the same way they are conditions to train for sport perhaps these figures could be significantly different.

Adolescence is where the support must start. Athlete identity foreclosure is an important variable in sports psychology. Research has shown that this fact is most pronounced during late adolescence (Brewer &Petitpas.2017). While young men do experience some positive association with being an athlete via friendship, team connection and confidence through performance goals, the need for further research to define the negative and maladaptive behaviors of this population is necessary to determine just how significant the impact of competitive sport is on risk taking behaviors and substance abuse in late adolescence to earlier adulthood (Brewer &Petitpas.2017). One of the most at risk populations in regard to athlete identity foreclosure are young black male athletes (Beamon.2023). According to the NCAA statistics, less than 2% of high school athletes progress to D1 colleges and less than 1% of collegiate athletes progress to the professional ranks (Rao et al.2015). According to Beamon (2023) due to the enormous amounts of time college athletes spend on their sport and with fellow athletes, often living, eating, training, and traveling together, little room is left to create any other form of identity. Male African American athletes are the least likely in this student athlete population to identify with anything other than being an athlete (Beamon, 2023). This issue can contribute to a decline in mental health post collegiate career (Beamon.2023). With this knowledge in hand, the need to develop proactive education to prepare and support adolescent athletes with the view to achieve balance prior to the commencement of collegiate or professional sports should be seen as an essential preventative possible life saving measure.

Support for young male athletes. Aggression, anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem is prevalent amongst male athletes. Gharibvand et al. (2022) outlines in his report that the need for connection with family is essential for encouraging healthy relationships in and out of sport and improves self-efficacy (p.546). If an adolescence male athlete, who is already in the stage of striving for independence, is unsupported at home, sports may become his only place of refuge. This issue is an additional responsibility for the club, high school and volunteer youth coaches who may not be well equipped to support or direct the necessary care required for these athletes. With adolescent athletes retreating into silence or pushing through pain due to limited team resources at the high school level, the adolescent may choose to use sport as form of escapism.

Concluding limitations. The issues surrounding male athletes need to be addressed in their infancy, during the formative years when the adolescent brain is developing, before peer influence takes hold and before they arrive to young adult hood and may be separated from family support. By normalizing in adolescence, the process of talking with a Mental Performance Coach about how you feel both emotionally and physically, as a way to improve performance, wellbeing and not a crutch, we could create a new generation of male athletes and reduce the negative effects of colligate and professional sports. There is already evidence supporting the need for further development of male athlete mental health care at the colligate level as researched by Grundy et al. (2021) so why are we not discussing issues now in high school with upper classmen who may aspire to one day be a colligate and professional athletes? It is the goal through additional research at the Colligate level and raising awareness of the de-stigmatization of men expressing emotions, education of mental health conditions in athletic retirement and that a proactive support system during adolescence so that athlete success can be achieved before athletes become champions, retire, or succumb to the enormous mental pressure that comes with elite sport. By changing the approach of how male high school athlete see and process their feelings and emotions, we can impact the culture of how men address the mental health challenges they may face later in life as Colligate or professional athletes.

Methods The purpose of this section. of the paper is to present the methods that will be used to conduct the study, including participants, procedures, materials, and design. The aim of this research is to identify the needs specific to male athletes in competitive sports, the unique consequences that may arise for the male athletes under duress and develop a proactive to system to achieve support, care and delivery to a population that is underrepresented in mental health and wellbeing.

Participants. This research is aimed to contribute towards creating a proactive system for adolescent male athletes before they reach college. This research proposal could also be reproduced to help female student athletes. In order to do this, the participants required for the study will be upper classmen in high school aged from 15 to 18 years. It is known that competitive sports begin at the age of around 5 or 6 years old and by the age of 15 years, we have seasoned athletes who experienced 10 years of a variety of different stressors and influences (Maffuli,2000).

It is considered that athletes in the middle of adolescence face a very challenging period and understanding what they feel during this period in regard to competitive sport will help determine what affects their mental health and wellbeing (Brewer & Petitpas,2017). This information will be useful in the implementation of adolescent athlete support and readiness for collegiate sport.

The research project will take about 12 months in order to gather information from a wide variety of male high school athletes from different demographics across California. A ten-question questionnaire will be used to assess how sport has impacted the male athlete up to the point (high school junior and senior year) and what concerns the athlete may have as they move toward young adulthood and into collegiate sport. The anonymous paper questionnaire will be delivered in the setting of a substitute practice session for high school teams and the language used in the questions will be age appropriate to accommodate the current level of executive function occupied in an adolescent brain.

As the participants are minors, it will be necessary to seek consent from the guardians of the participant and this response will be requested via the school athletic director in formal letter prior to the study taking place. The participants will take the questionnaire voluntarily and will have the opportunity to recant their submission if the athlete feels they do not understand what is asked of them or feel uncomfortable with the subject material. Parents and guardians will be extensively briefed on the nature of what information is being sought and the researcher will be available to answer questions prior to the commencement of the study. It would also be useful to speak to the school population at each school prior to the delivery of the opportunity to complete the questionnaire to advise the group that this event is their choice to attend but by doing so they can contribute to improved future wellbeing of male athletes.

Apparatus, Materials, and Instruments. This particular study is interested in learning if there are specific challenges for male adolescent athletes. The questionnaire will be conducted in person will be using self-reporting system on a paper questionnaire in a private setting supervised by the coach and the researcher. In line with HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and FERPA (Family Education Rights Privacy Act) the athlete will not be able to complete the questionnaire unless the coach has received the signed written consent from the parent or guardian(see Appendix). The questions that is being asked will be based on a scale of strongly agree, agree, disagree to strongly disagree and with the option of prefer not to answer. While a name is not required the sport and the race the athlete is. This response hopes to identify if some sports present more risk to male athletes than others.

Procedure Once the questionnaire has been completed the results will be tabled according to sport and race with school remaining undisclosed to protect the identity of those who took part. If a particular race was affected more than another, this response will be included. The identity of those who take part and what schools they attend will be identified only as California based high schools. The confidential results will be distributed to parents, the athletic director, and head coach.

Design. What will be used in this study is a quantitative vertical within- subjects experimental ratio design to seek answers from a specific group of the sporting population, male high school athletes aged between 15-18 years of age. The reason for this is because the factors in a within-subjects design do not have to counteract the noise that may occur between conditions or due to individual differences. There would not be any confounding effects as the participants are the same age, contributing voluntarily from different high school sports teams and all participants would face the same conditions and the same questionnaire conducted by the same researcher. The age and race of the participant would be factored into the result as well as the sport. To ensure this understanding and give validity to the answers received by adolescents, it would be necessary to repeat the same study several times and compare responses from the first questionnaire to the last (Sharma, 2022).

According to IRB (Independent Review Board) this research is hoping to obtain an exemption as it is a self-reported survey, and it is not invasive and of minimal risk. The objective of why the research is necessary will be outlined to the parent of the subject to ensure minor consent ( Apendix). To protect the ethics and wellbeing of the interviewed subjects, a positive psychology session would take place with all participants following the research to ensure they were aware of exactly why and where the answers they provided would be used. This event would also be an opportunity for the participants to retract their submission if they did not feel comfortable, to ensure a high level of comfortability in the procedures (Ghele,2013).

Conclusion

Rao (2015) explains that male athletes identified in a report from the NCAA have a significantly higher rate of suicide compared with female athletes with football being the sport that presents the biggest risk. We are aware that black male students are most likely to connect with their identity of being an athlete and thus present the greatest risk in retirement (Beamon, 2023). While this paper has focused on the needs of male athletes, the proposed solution of support by the implementation of proactive measures by a Performance Coach in high school settings to educate and encourage help seeking behaviors, could also be accessed by female athletes.

The current student athlete reactive mental health care system of waiting until the athlete is depressed, or their performance deteriorates and then provide intervention, does not promote an environment that empowers a young adult athlete to take care of themselves in college. The system contributes to an environment of shame and weakness where athletes may hide conditions or problems for fear of losing their position in the team or respect of teammates. By obtaining impactful information from athletes in high school, it may be possible to get an accurate read on the negative impact of sports on adolescent athletes, prior to the athlete leaving the supportive home environment and develop the necessary coping skills.

It is the goal of this research proposal to create a proactive system that provides young athletes in high school care, support, and normalcy around seeking help for problems that may arise from being in a competitive sport environment. If this response is achieved, it is proposed that as the athlete ages, he/or she will use the current available mental health facilities that are provided by universities and the risk to the population of male athletes will be significantly reduced.
















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