Table of Contents
Social support and sports participation are protective factors for mental health. Social distancing restrictions in the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic limited student-athletes’ social interactions with their teams and possibilities to perform their sports. This study aimed to determine the long-term effects of the social distancing restrictions on the positive (i.e., wellbeing and QOL) and negative (i.e., anxiety, depression, worry) elements of mental health. Our hypothesis was that participation and competition in sport would improve student-athletes’ mental health by increasing positive mental health and decreasing negative mental health. Participants included 40 individual and team sports student-athletes (Mage = 19.7 years, SD = 1.18) from two NCAA Division I universities in the United States. Two data collection rounds were performed: October to November, 2020 and in February to March, 2021. The results did not support the hypothesis; no significant changes were found from restrictions to post-restrictions for positive mental health variables (total wellbeing, subjective wellbeing, psychological wellbeing, social wellbeing, and QOL) or negative mental health variables (anxiety, depression, worry) from restrictions to post-restrictions. We concluded that sport participation itself may not be as important for mental health as the physical activity and social connectedness that comes with sport. This study contributes important insights on essential factors that may support student-athletes in uncertain times.
Keywords: mental health promotion, mental health disorder, student-athlete, pandemic, wellbeing