Scoring the game-winning touchdown, waking up for 6 a.m. lifts, studying for an important exam, traveling to an away game, fueling the body for workouts and practices, and scheduling time to spend with friends and family are all things that student-athletes encounter on a daily basis.
For most student-athletes, there is a stigma associated with sports and mental health. According to the Sports Conflict Institute (SCI), the reason there is a stigma is because of the masculinity value created by society that is put on sports and the physical contact that a majority of sports endure.
Not only can college athletics be draining on the body, but on the mind and soul as well. Through a program called “Bronco Bold” at Boise State University, mental health awareness is a topic that is discussed and implemented in every athletic program across campus.
The mission of Bronco Bold
In the fall of 2019, Bronco Bold was introduced to the university. According to the website, the mission of the program was to be a “student-athlete mental health initiative that spreads a message of hope, help, and resiliency to the entire campus and greater community.”
Despite the program’s events and activities being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, their mission remains the same.
The Director of Athletic Performance Psychology and Athletic Counseling Stephanie Donaldson is also the coordinator and director for the Bronco Bold program. With Donaldson’s job, she provides one-on-one and group sessions or talks with student-athletes when it comes to mental health.
“Bronco Bold originated a couple years ago with the idea of giving student-athletes the opportunity to use the platform of sports to speak about mental health and wellness and the importance of it, not only in their lives but in family members lives, teammates lives; basically to start a conversation about it and to normalize the conversations around mental health,” Donaldson said.
One of the first activities that student-athletes participated in was handing out blue bracelets across campus with the words “Bronco Bold” written on them in big white letters. This initiative was so the program could eventually reach the community and the rest of Boise State’s campus.
The program is built on three pillars which are to reduce stigma, raise awareness and cultivate resiliency. On the Boise State Athletics website, these three pillars are explained further.
“#BroncoBOLD will be the voice of change. We will create a culture of help-seeking and inclusion through personal stories and messages of strength. Collectively, we will normalize conversations around mental health and reduce stigma.”
“#BroncoBOLD will shed light on mental health by focusing on education and proactive prevention. We will grow awareness and knowledge of mental health issues through such forums as social media, workshops, and sponsored events and athletic competitions.”
“#BroncoBOLD will utilize a strengths-based approach, emphasizing the boldness we all possess. We will share healthy coping skills, engage support systems, and use our internal and external resources.”
“So much of a student athlete’s focus is on the physical and building physical strength. So, when I came in then Bronco Bold started it was a paradigm shift where we’re focusing on the physical strength, but also the mental strength,” Donaldson said. “A piece of that mental strength is actually taking care of your mental health just the same as you take care of your physical health.”
Why mental health is so important
Student-athletes’ lives can be stressful and difficult to manage. With practice and game schedules, traveling to away games, classes, homework, outside jobs or activities, and finding time to recover can be demanding not only physically, but mentally as well.
Redshirt senior Brian Humphreys is currently on the Boise State men’s golf team and a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). The SAAC is a program consisting of student-athlete representatives from each sport at Boise State. These team leaders create initiatives and movements like Bronco Bold within the Boise State community.
While being a student-athlete on campus, Humphreys says that having a busy schedule can become a lot and it can become easy to overlook important things like mental health.
“A lot of people kind of look at student-athletes and think that they have it significantly easier because they get really cool perks for being athletes, but there’s also a lot of other stuff that comes with it that people don’t think about,” Humphreys said. “We care about our sport and we care about our performance.”
Before coming to college, Humphreys said that golf is viewed as an individual sport. Suddenly they have other teammates whose results revolve around their performance and it can be a big adjustment.
“Making sure that you’re enjoying what you’re doing, that you have good relationships with your friends and you’re getting adequate time to do things that you like that aren’t team or sport-related are things that sometimes can get swept under the rug if you don’t keep an eye on them,” Humphreys said.
Ways that Humphreys deals with the stress of being a student-athlete is by reading a book or watching a show he enjoys. For an incoming freshman struggling with adjustments and the pressure, he suggests scheduling time throughout one’s day to focus on themself.
Looking towards the future
When the program was first introduced, in-person events such as finals stress relief and puppy parties were part of the plan. Donaldson says it was a bummer when the pandemic hit because the in-person events were no longer allowed to happen for student-athletes.
As a redshirt freshman on the Boise State women’s soccer team Ashley Price wants to see Bronco Bold become a bigger initiative. She wants to see more girls on her team get involved as well as individuals from other sports. Price also hopes that the program can raise more awareness outside of the student-athlete community.
Price’s two teammates, sophomore Haley Apple and junior Kennedi Paul, are heavy influencers within the program. She says that they are trying to get more student-athletes from other teams involved to get more voices heard and talk about the importance of mental health.
“With the amount that we deal with, the amount that we put on our bodies every single day, especially while being normal students too, I think [Apple and Paul] want to normalize [mental health] and make it a comfortable topic to talk about all the time,” Price said.
The program plans on collaborating with Boise State’s BroncoFIT for an event in April.
Mental health resources at Boise State
Price says that although she has never met with her personally, Donaldson has been a great resource for her team. Price and Humphreys have both mentioned that their coaches have been resources to them for mental health with open-door policies.
Donaldson says that while she meets mainly with student-athletes, she has also provided help to coaches, so they are better prepared to be a resource for their student-athletes.
“A piece of my role is helping [student-athletes] get the help they need. So, if I’m not the best fit for them, it’s making sure they’re getting referred out to the counseling center on campus, to community providers that can provide them a specialty area of help,” Donaldson said. “That’s the most important thing to me is that they’re able to get connected with someone who’s a good fit, someone they can work with and work well with.”
Violence Awareness and Response/Gender Equities Center: 208-426-4259
Campus Security and Police Information: 208-426-6911