Judge sends Aurora man accused of killing father to mental health facility

NFA athletes grapple with their sport’s mental health toll

Nov. 18 – NORWICH – After her penalty kick sailed over the crossbar, sealing an extra-time loss, Norwich Free Academy senior Alyssa Newson cried for quite a while.

“Oh, it’s my fault,” she recalled thinking to herself.

But that wasn’t true, Newson said she finally realized. Her Norwich Free Academy women’s football team had plenty of other chances to win the game. Defeats, like victories, are the responsibility of entire teams.

Will Ambruso, also a senior in the NFA, took it upon himself to lose weight so he could wrestle at a lower weight class. He ate excessively to regain weight, restoring up to 10 pounds overnight.

“Nobody asked me,” he said. “I did it for the team.”

Newson, Ambruso and half a dozen other NFA athletes discussed their personal mental health issues Friday at a high school conference, candidly sharing authentic and eye-opening stories. A panel of four students spoke to about 300 of their fellow varsity athletes in Slater Auditorium at the same time sports psychologist Megan Cannon delivered a keynote address to another group of 300 athletes at Norton Gymnasium. Then the groups changed location.

Anne Zinn, school counselor and assistant women’s basketball coach, said NFA athletes were behind the conference.

“We had heard from athletes how they were struggling with school, the pandemic (COVID-19), their sport,” said Zinn, who advises the Varsity N Club, an NFA service group open to college athletes in the USA. school. “We discussed having a lecture with a guest speaker and some of the students pushed it forward.”

Zinn said athletes are often held to higher standards than other students and face more stigma and shame when they admit to needing help with their mental health.

“It’s been made worse by the pandemic,” she said. “The isolation and inability to participate in their sport and be part of their team ― which makes them excited to come to school ― has made it worse for the athletes than for other students .”

The pressure of having to excel in the classroom and on the field or on the pitch while navigating a social life “can get to them,” Zinn said.

Alice Rourke, a junior who plays field hockey and lacrosse, said she has been involved in the sport since she was a freshman. In seventh grade, she had a breakdown and thought about harming herself. Sometimes she struggles to get out of bed in the morning and has had anxiety attacks before workouts.

“The first year was tough,” she said.

Elya Anor, a sophomore who competes in cross country and track and field, spoke about the stress of competing and judging herself harshly. Feeling “underqualified,” she said, she learned that your quality is a reflection of the work you put into it.

“But realize that some days you’re not at your best,” she said. “Expect to have difficulties.”

NFA Communications Director Michael O’Farrell moderated the panels and posed questions, asking athletes about topics including the impact of social media and addressing expectations, perfectionism and time demands. ‘an athlete.

“Sometimes after a loss it hurts to see the other team celebrating (on social media),” Newson said.

Athletes agreed that it was helpful not to dwell on poor performance and expect perfection. Avoid being too self-critical, they advised.

Rourke admitted she doesn’t manage time well, recounting how her team has already played four games in five days. At times like these, it’s helpful to reach out to counselors, she said. Several of the panelists said they had benefited from having parents who were athletes as students and understood the challenges.

“I love reading athlete biographies,” Newson said. “It helps to know that you are not alone.”

Cannon, the keynote speaker, who competed as an athlete at the college level, said more and more elite athletes are discussing their mental health issues publicly. Twenty-seven percent of college athletes admit to having been diagnosed with depression at some point, she said, while 34.9% have been diagnosed with anxiety or “fear of the unknown”. She said the percentages are similar among high school athletes.

“How many of you have ever felt overwhelmed? she asked her first audience of the day. A majority raised their hands.

Only 10% of athletes seek help, Cannon said.

She listed actions athletes can take to improve their emotional health, including being aware and accepting of their feelings and recognizing that “rest is OK.” She said most athlete injuries occur in those who sleep less than six hours a night.

Athletes should prioritize their own emotional needs and strive to engage in activities that make them feel good, Cannon said. Sometimes that might mean taking a break.

“Your sport can become the stressor,” she said.


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