Washington State University received an enormous shock when it was discovered that quarterback Tyler Hilinski committed suicide. He was a young man who appeared to have everything going for him, including perhaps being the starting quarterback for following season. The suicide leaves people puzzled but it is a warning call for all collegiate athletics.
Old Stereotypes Should Go
The common stereotype is that a college athlete is privileged. He or she is on a full ride scholarship, is physically fit, and is the envy of the rest of the student body.
However, none of this means that any athlete is immune from the bite of inner demons.
These are young people away from home for the first time and they may have left behind domestic issues and were forced to accept new social challenges.
Coaches cannot ignore their responsibility because that is not right.
They are responsible for preparing young people for life and should take more than just a passing interest in their players.
It means going above and beyond looking at physical skills. It is not going to be an easy process for many, but it still should be done.
Athletic departments should be aware of the emotional and social difficulties confronting their athletes.
Red Flares Signaling Danger
Professionals all agree that there is no one cause for suicide.
Many times, people are surprised when they find out that someone they know has ended his or her life.
There are some warning signs that coaches can look for in young athletes that may suggest a person is in danger:
• Displays extreme mood swings;
• A person suddenly withdraws from socializing and shows a tendency to be isolated;
• Behaving agitated or anxious;
• Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain;
• Talking about the feeling of hopelessness or having no purpose.
The list doesn’t end with these.
Many of the warnings are indicators of internal distress but increased use of alcohol or drugs may signal that a person is reaching crisis stage.
The above suggests that the warning signs are not something that happened suddenly.
Instead, the depressed feelings gradually develop over time that may be weeks or months long.
These danger indications will go unnoticed in most cases. Coaches should be on alert for any suicidal symptoms.
Suicide is a major concern but there are other issues demanding attention.
Many athletes come from family and social backgrounds that are at risk.
Lawrence Phillips, a star running back for the University of Nebraska, was in and out of foster care homes most of his young life.
It is safe to say that the continual domestic disruptions caused many of the problems that haunted him in his adult life.
There are others whose personal lives are chaotic with repeated legal interventions.
There is no guarantee the issues will not surface, causing emergencies for the athlete and the school as well.
A Proactive Response is Important
No one is expecting a coach to get a degree in social work. There are opportunities for them to become better versed in some of the emotional problems of young athletes.
These can include seminars at the school where they are coaching.
Another option is available from the local government.
County Children Services offer training for prospective foster care parents.
The instruction includes various problems young people have, and how to cope with them.
It is an opportunity to help coaches identify such issues and take constructive action as the challenges surface.
The healthcare insurance policy of the school can assist, depending on the coverage.
A benefit can be something that allows a number of counseling sessions for a disturbed young person.
The athletic department itself may consider such a special counseling policy to cover all athletes participating in sports.
Coaches want to share their love and knowledge of the sport with athletes.
There’s a great deal of personal enrichment in seeing a young person develop.
It is unfortunate, but our society must deal with challenges which were unthinkable just a few decades ago.
Coaches should be on alert for potential problems.
No program wants to have its name in the newspapers connected to act of violence or self-destruction.
A proactive effort to identify and understand situations that lead to crisis is important.
The reputation of the department is at stake but, more importantly, so are the lives of many young people.