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ADVANCE Perspective: Physical Therapy & Rehab Medicine

Your Highest Responsibility

Published July 18, 2012 1:33 PM by Jon Bassett
ST. LOUIS, MO -- Hard to believe but in a few weeks, fall training camps for scholastic and professional sports will be ramping up. While PTs and ATCs working for schools and sports teams are keenly attuned to the physical health of their charges -- picking up on small anomalies and complaints before they grow into major problems -- they can also be the first to notice emotional concerns as well.

At the 63rd Annual Meeting and Clinical Symposia of the National Athletic Trainers' Association -- held June 26-29 in St. Louis -- presenter Kenneth Chew, PsyD, outlined the immense pressure today's young athletes are under during "A Whole New Ballgame: Interdisciplinary and Interdepartmental Approach to Health Care and Health Promotion of College Student-Athletes."

"It's much different [now] than how it may have been 10 to 20 years ago," said Chew, Director of the Indiana State University Student Counseling Center in Terre Haute, IN. Fueled in part by pressures of high-dollar scholarships and dreams of making it big like the superstars on TV, today's young athletes are taking on tremendous pressures earlier in their sports careers. Plus, helicopter parenting and colleges catering to their star athletes have created a sense of entitlement and taken away many of the adult-level responsibilities that teach valuable coping mechanisms to adolescents and young adults.

"Students are coming in with a less-defined sense of personal identity," said Chew.

Adding to this is today's detached social environment, which stresses electronic communication over interpersonal skills. As a result, students can be more sensitive to criticism and less likely to assert themselves.

"When they were growing up, everyone got a trophy," said Chew.

Taken as a whole, the perfectionistic tendencies, higher standards and less-developed social and coping mechanisms are pushing many of today's student-athletes to the brink. Psychotropic medications have exploded in recent years, Chew reported, and student counseling centers have seen a 10% to 25% increase in usage over the past 10 years.

For this reason, a college's athletic department should keep a close watch on the emotional states of its athletes, and shouldn't hesitate to alert trained counselors, Chew stressed. Doing so could save a life.

"If a student is suicidal, chances are you'll see it before me, and in some cases [even] before the coaches," Chew told his audience of physical therapists and athletic trainers. Open communication between the athletic department and the university's counseling/mental health service is critical to keep problems from falling through the cracks, and to prevent assumptions that the case is being handled by another department.

"Without that regular communication, there is confusion about what each other does," Chew said.

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