With OSU’s help, Granville takes a proactive approach with athletes’ mental health

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — William Bukala was going through a confidence crisis as a student-athlete at Granville High School.

“During my freshman year, I wasn’t in the right spot, I wasn’t doing well,” Bukala, a sophomore baseball and football player, said. “Mentally I was kind of in shambles. The whole thing was balance. It was very hard to balance schoolwork with sports.”

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Junior track athlete Lane Hannahs also struggled, sometimes lacking motivation as a long-distance runner.

“Sometimes I would be two-thirds through a race and then just mentally be, like, wanna stop and just go home,” Hannahs said.

From growing up in a pandemic to navigating the noise of social media, student-athletes are under more pressure than ever before. But at Granville, a new program is taking a more proactive approach to mental health.

Samantha Bates is the director of research at Ohio State’s LiFESports program, which partnered with Granville to address the mental health needs of its student-athletes.

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“When you think about a high school student-athlete now, we’re seeing increased pressure to perform well in the classroom,” Bates said. “We know that 88 percent of student-athletes at the high school level nationally report feeling extremely stressed and overwhelmed. In the last year, going out to Granville and working with those student-athletes, that data was corroborated as we talked about ‘what are you dealing with’ and ‘what are you seeing’.”

Through a series of seminars and smaller group sessions, mental health professionals provided tools and resources for student-athletes, empowering them to deal with the growing pressures of competition.

“In some ways, we might be de-stigmatizing the environment because they’re certainly open and willing to have those conversations; they’re just looking for the adults to make the space for it,” Bates said.

The program was made possible through a $100,000 grant from Private Foundation to help support mental health training for student-athletes and coaches. And in the span of a year, the initiative has made a big impact on athletes like Bukala and Hannahs.

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“With the program, I felt like I could be more open about it to my teammates and they could help me through what I’m dealing with,” Bukala said.

While Hannahs admitted he was only interested in the program because the school gave out free Chick-Fil-A at its first meeting, he sees the importance of having mental health strategies available in all schools.

“It’s definitely really important because of all the pressures that we have on us, to have to deal with all these different things,” Hannahs said. “And then have the pressure to go out and perform when everybody is watching us.”

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