Student athletes handle advanced workload, anxiety

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Henry Palattella

On Oct. 29, 2016, Kent State sophomore kicker Shane Hynes made a 35-yard field-goal as time expired to give the Kent State football team a 27-24 victory over Central Michigan University.

After nailing the kick, Hynes ran to the 50-yard line pointing to his veins before being mobbed by his teammates, a celebration made famous by D’Angelo Russell of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Similarly, on Jan. 28, redshirt freshman guard Megan Carter sank a shot from the right elbow with 2.2 seconds left on the game clock to give Kent State a 80-78 lead over Bowling Green State University — the margin they would go on to win by.

After nailing the shot, Carter turned and let out a cathartic roar before being swarmed by her teammates.

Both game-winning moments proved to be key moments in each of their team’s respective seasons. Hynes provided the football team with one of its three wins, while Carter’s shot at the time kept the Flashes in a tie for second in the MAC East, a division they would go on to win.

The moments, however, aren’t indicative of either player’s season or career, as they both have dealt with obstacles both on and off the court.

Both Hynes and Carter deal with obstacles related to mental health: Hynes admits to dealing with anxiety, while Carter tore her ACL three games into 2015, which required her to miss the entire year. 

“Honestly, I was even questioning why I was even at Kent State,” Carter said of her mentality after she suffered the injury. “(I questioned) playing basketball too … like maybe I should just stop. Maybe this is it.”

For Hynes, he deals more with the mental aspect of the game, as he can decide the outcome of a game with his foot.

“I don’t want to say we’re playing the game for fun,” Hynes said of him kicking. “But that’s what it boils down to. Whereas coaches’ perspective; that’s their livelihood. If I miss a kick, a coach could get fired, or if a quarterback makes the wrong throw, a coach could get fired.”

When Hynes feels anxious on the field, he attempts to cope with it in an unusual way.

“For me personally, (I deal with) anxiety by using a lot of sarcasm. I like to say I bully myself, so when anxiety hits, I bully myself,” Hynes said. “I don’t want to make it worse, but bullying myself makes it better, so usually I’ll tell myself ‘Hey you missed this kick, you suck’ or … ‘You can’t miss this kick because you’re going to let everybody else down.’”

Hynes believes what helps him is a breathing exercise that John Gunstad, one of the athletic departments’ psychologists on staff, taught the entire team.

“He did a great job last year teaching us how to breathe (and) doing slow inhale steps and slow exhale steps and calming your heart rate,” Hynes said. “It really did work. Some of the specialists did it on the sideline during practice … you’d run or practice game-winning field goal and take the routine of it and your breathing steps and it really did calm me down.”

Carter’s setbacks fall more into the physical category, as the ACL tear was her third in five years. Carter chose Kent State over Central Michigan out of high school, and said that sitting on the bench watching her team practice took a toll on her.

“Just going into practice knowing that you can’t get better and watching everyone else get better,” Carter said. “Then you also have to take on a different role, kind of having to play the encouraging role.”

The year Carter sat out turned out to be a tumultuous one for the women’s basketball team, as they only managed to win six games — a feat that brought extra stress into the players’ lives.

“(People looked and said) ‘It’s your fault that you guys are losing,’” said sophomore guard Alexa Golden said of the team’s performance in 2015. “It added a lot of stress on top of the everyday demands that we already had.”

Golden, who started in both 2015 and 2016, said she believes having a tightly knit team helps give the student-athletes a support system.

“Unlike normal college students, we don’t get to go home that much, so our team is really our family,” Golden said. “We see them more than our real family. It’s very important to have a team that gets along and has good chemistry and you can really lean on and talk to.”

Hynes and Carter — like every other student-athlete — also manage academics as well as athletics, which can prove to be tricky.

Kent State’s football team played three of its games this past season on weekdays, while conference play for the women’s basketball team consists of a game on Saturday and Wednesday every week.

“You definitely get acclimated to traveling and keeping up with schoolwork,” Carter said of the team’s schedule. “Getting your schoolwork done early so you can turn it in before the due dates so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Hynes also believes that getting ahead on your schoolwork is something that can help prevent stress.

“For us it’s different, since we have a blocked off schedule from 7 a.m. ‘til noon, since that’s usually when we practice. So that makes it a little bit better on us,” Hynes said. “For the most part the teachers are pretty understanding about it … most people are pretty understanding about it … (but) you’re still expected to do the work nonetheless and get caught up.”

Part of the reason the teachers are so understanding is because of the athletic support program, which is something that President Beverly Warren is a firm believer in.

“What I’m so proud of is that this athletic program has a strong athletic support program called the athletic resources support,” Warren said. “Our student-athletes have counselors, they have tutors, they have tutors that go on the road with the team … Those counselors are making sure that our student-athletes are keeping up virtually with their work, (as well as) keeping up with how they can make up material (and) make sure that when they return to campus they’re not (far behind).”

Anxiety and stress are still big problems for college students.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reported in 2015 that 85 percent of college students reported they had felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do at least once in the year, while 30 percent of students reported that stress negatively affected their academic performance.

These are problems that obviously have an impact on college students and can have an amplified effect on student-athletes due to their busy schedules. However, sometimes being an athlete can prove to be a form of release.

When Carter was asked why she came back after suffering her third ACL injury, her answer was simple.

“I have too much love for the game,” she said with a smile.

0430_PKG_MentalHealth_Chip from on Vimeo. Video by Chip Reid.

This story is part of a student media project entitled “The Silent Struggle.” See the whole project here

Henry Palattella is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].