Student-athletes across the nation are praised for their talents and winning the big game. Yet, something that is often overlooked by college sports fans is the struggles these athletes face with managing time, stress, injuries, pressure from external factors and learning how to prioritize their mental health.
Boise State Athletics launched BroncoBOLD in 2019 to spread awareness on the importance of mental health and wellness for student-athletes.
A group of student-athletes created the BroncoBOLD name and mission statement with the guidance of Stephanie Donaldson, the director of Athletic Performance and Psychology. This has initiated giving back to the Treasure Valley community through suicide prevention, community speakings from student-athletes and spreading awareness for the advocacy of mental health.
“There is so much awareness around it and we have identified the need,” Donaldson said. “Now it is creating the services and making sure the support is in place. I think there has been a lot of advocacy work in the area of sport that has also been changing the narrative that we have about mental health.”
As college students, athletes experience the same — or heightened — pressures as their counterparts who are not involved in sports. Additionally, they undergo enhanced stressors from participating in athletics at the collegiate level.
Outside of athletics, many people are not aware of the pressures that student-athletes face, as they are often only recognized for their wins and trophies. An athlete cannot experience physical strength and conditioning to their full potential unless they are preparing through mental reps as well.
“For football, we are a bunch of tough guys, but I am sure some of my teammates and friends are dealing with things that I don’t know about or they don’t speak up about,” said senior defensive tackle Scott Matlock. “It is important because we are people too. For Bronco Football, fans think we are these awesome people and well known in the community. They don’t think about us and our mental state, which is natural. People don’t sit back and realize what a lot of us have to do on a daily basis, so it can be tough.”
Matlock is an Idaho native and redshirt senior for Boise State football. He was named All Mountain West Second Team (2021), Phil Steele Preseason All Mountain West Third Team (2021) and All Mountain West Honorable Mention (2020).
A driving force for the creation of BroncoBOLD was pursuing a community outreach initiative to educate students in the greater Treasure Valley area about mental health and suicide prevention. Athletes have a unique platform that allows them to speak out about the importance of mental health awareness, creating a chain reaction.
“It is a trickling effect, so when you figure out how to control your mental health in one aspect of life, it helps you in all the other aspects,” said Kennedi Paul, a senior defender for women’s soccer. “You kind of figure out balance. I think that is the most important thing because when you struggle in a certain aspect, you try to put so much time and effort into that, but you forget about everything else. That is when you start to spiral, so helping yourself first is going to help other aspects of your life and then you can help others.”
Paul is an alumnus of Capital High School in Boise, and during her time at Boise State, she has been awarded Academic All Mountain West (2018, 2020-21 Spring).
A common concept that athletes tend to experience is the phenomenon of athletic identity. This is the state of mind where an athlete identifies with their role and is dependent on the acknowledgment of that role.
“Being on the field, in the weight room or at the facility is doing what I know,” Matlock said. “Sometimes I will go home and think ‘this is not what I am supposed to be doing right now.’ If it is a sport someone has been playing their whole life, and that is all they know, going home and doing other things is definitely an uncomfortable feeling, like you are lost sometimes.”
Donaldson recommends that student-athletes find a space to detach from their sport and develop hobbies and interests outside of their practice and game schedules. She also meets with teams on campus for team talks specified toward what is needed or requested, as well as with coaches and student-athletes for individual consultations.
On-Campus Mental Health Resources Available to Boise State Students
Violence Awareness and Response / Gender Equities Center: 208.426.4259
Campus Security and Police Information: 208.426.6911
In the case of a life-threatening emergency, call 911 immediately.