Life as a student athlete: Derek Washington

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Derek Washington chose DCCC because of the state of the art STEM facilities and the affordible tuition cost. He’s very active on campus, participating in a variety of clubs and student activities. Photo courtesy of DCCC’s Your Advantage

By Nicholas Gallo

Derek Washington, a 22-year-old engineering major and basketball player at DCCC, is working towards academic and athletic excellence through a heavy schedule of classes, practices and games, clubs, and a part-time job.

“Compared to last semester, my grades have sort of dropped,” Washington said. “I hate to say it, I was always a student on the distinguished honor role and was always recognized for my academic excellence.”

Since joining the Phantoms basketball team, Washington is still in the process of getting accustomed to his hectic schedule. “Being on the team plays a responsibility factor,” Washington said. “You have to be assiduous to your schedule. In the beginning, I couldn’t maintain playing basketball, studying engineering, being a club leader for the Student Government Association and the Math club, and working part-time as a lifeguard at the Haverford YMCA. But I’m getting there. I am living in the now.”

Athletes are experiencing stress levels that are affecting them physically and mentally. The Hawkeye, a student produced news publication of Hillsborough Community College, reported on what types of stress student athletes go through and how it affects them.

According to the article’s author Frank Kozlowski, before competition a strong unlikely source of anxiety swarms athletes. This added pressure undermines the athletes focus and concentration during the game and while performing academic tasks.

In contrast to regular college students, student athletes take on more of a load involving commitments with academics and their athletic program. Ten to 15 percent of college athletes are at risk of developing increased stress and mental issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders.

The National Athletic Trainers Association(NATA), is “the professional membership association that certified athletic trainers and others who support the athletic training profession.” The association’s mission is to engage and represent the growth of athletic trainers as unique health care providers.

Timothy Neal, an assistant professor and a clinical education coordinator of Conordia University Ann Arbor, documents on the burnout of student athletes on NATA’s website.

The website defines burnout as “ a response to chronic stress of continued demands in a sport or activity without the opportunity for physical and mental rest and recovery.” Athletes have reported experiencing this by feeling trapped by circumstances of their sport. Despite feeling overwhelmed, the athletes are asked to push though the symptoms, continue to work out with the team, and fight through a difficult schedule to maintain their position on the team and keep their scholarships.

Burnouts affect student athletes physically and mentally. Physically, the athletes lose strength and stamina, experience a raise in heart rate and blood pressure, and are open to illnesses as a result of suppressed immune system. Mentally, they experience forgetfulness and a loss of concentration affecting school work, an increase in negative emotions, such as irritability, and a decrease in self-esteem.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association(NCAA) supports student athletes across the country. The NCAA’s website states that nearly half a million college athletes participate in 24 sports in 1,121 institutions involving 99 voting athletic conferences and 39 affiliated organizations.

Athletic staff members of the NCAA educate themselves on signs of burnouts as well. Athletic departments at all schools monitor their student athletes through evaluating school work and athletic conditioning.

To combat potential high stress levels, the NCAA provides top of the line technology, tutoring and access to academic advisors. Also, the Hawkeye reports that counseling can be helpful to student athletes as well. This will reduce the self reliant factor and encourage student athletes to look for help when needed.

Building the student athletes’ self-esteem back up will impact their skills as young adults. Time management, positive coping skills involving anxiety and stress reduction, and working out interpersonal issues, are the benefits of counseling for student athletes experts believe.

According to the NCAA, eight out of 10 undergraduate student athletes will earn a bachelor’s degree. In addition, 35 percent of postgraduate student athletes will earn a postgraduate degree. In 2002, 74 percent of student athletes were graduating with a degree, but as of now that number has increased though 14 years to 12 percent in 2016. That is a 86 percent graduation success rate for student athletes.

Despite all the highs and lows, Washington has developed new characteristics along the way. “I learned how to trust the process,” Washington said. “You got to be persistent, diligent, punctual, and on top of everything.”

On a scale from one to 10, 10 being stressed out and one being not stressed at all, Washington rated his daily life between a seven or an eight, but said he stills finds a way to motivate himself through this tough time.

“I want to set an example for people to follow,” Washington said. “For the students and for the kids. I wasn’t the student who went to a four year university out of high school. I could’ve, but I took my time to find myself first, find my purpose, and that is my motivation, to motivate others.”

Washington’s dream is to work for NASA one day. As a child, he enjoyed gazing at the stars with a high quality telescope he used to have. Temple university is his first transfer choice, but he is still considering other mechanical engineering schools around the Delco area. He was also advised to consider New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) as well.

Meanwhile, the DCCC Phantoms and Washington prepare for the Men’s Division III Basketball Regional Playoffs on Feb. 25. “We are looking for that chip,” Washington said. “We are looking on adding another trophy to our trophy case.”

Contact Nicholas Gallo at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu