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TAMUK student athletes taking part in research on mental health

Posted at 11:17 AM, Aug 20, 2022

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Very few receive an NCAA innovations and research grant, only five a year. Texas A&M Kingsville is one of those schools this year. A total of $100,000 has been dished out to the five schools to help student athletes and their mental health.

Any current or former college athlete knows everyday is class, practice, study, repeat.

“It’s very exhausting. From the moment I wake up…my day is already scheduled,” Sophia Ramirez said, a senior on the track and field team.

As performance psychology major, Ramirez understands the value of mental health on performance.

Each school receiving the grant has created their own program to address an aspect of student athlete's mental health.

Amber Shipherd is leading the research. After having conversations with fellow faculty members, they've noticed student athletes lack confidence in the classroom.

Shipherd said the thletic department has had a low student retention rate compared to the general student population. Usually, it's the other way around.

“They feel confident they can do whatever they need to do on the athletic field, but as soon as they get in the classroom, its like I don’t have the ability to be a good student,” said Shipherd the associate professor and coordinator of performance psychology program.

Through six workshops, Shipherd will show first year and transfer athletes the mental skills to excel in the classroom. Students form the general population will take part as the control group.

"The other goal of the project is actually to help get them to see it a little bit differently. And recognize that stress can be beneficial. And get them to use their stress a little more effectively," Shipherd said.

In the long term, Shipherd would like to see student athletes improve on retention. In the short term it's about seeing an increase in grades. The same mental tools they use in this program are the same they're taught on the athletic field.

There's a reason the focus is on first year athletes or those new to campus. Upperclassmen can attest just how difficult the transition to college can be.

“I really didn’t understand how to just put my mind aside and all my thoughts and the emotions I was experiencing,” Ramirez said.

"It’s a lot. Coming away from home. Being with your mom everyday, her helping you out, cooking dinner. And you get here it’s a lot right away,” Javelina footbll player Walker Ring said, a junior tight end.

Over the last few years, we’ve heard more cases of athletes and self-harm. These athletes have learned how important it is to take care of their mental health. For James Perez, another football player, he said the mentorship he got on his team helped him with the stress as a newcomer. He now tries to be that role model.

“Take any resource you can," James Perez, the junior defensive lineman said. "College can be very overwhelming on it’s own without football, just going to class, having to study is a lot.”

“Absolutely critical and I think that’s especially something the pandemic has been able to shine a light on," said Shipherd. "The fact that these are whole beings and we can’t just focus on how their performance is on the athletic field.”

Shipherd said they are actively recruiting participants.

The program will run through the fall semester, with the hope to present findings at a conference sometime next year.

Shipherd said if things go as expected, she thinks this is something that can be used for everyone at the university.

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