Every athlete has fallen into the trap of asking the question, “What are my stats?” It is a dilemma that has an addictive quality. You become infatuated with the numbers you create, only to feel disappointed in your shortcomings. It is so satisfying to see a positive stat to the point it becomes infectious and you want to keep looking at the stat sheet to feel that high of accomplishment again. Sadly, that also means one hiccup makes all the difference in the value of your play.
The average volleyball play is 5 seconds. Decisions are made in milliseconds, muscle memory must be pristine, and there are no second chances. There has been a newfound pressure added to the game with the understanding that every move you make is marked. Hundreds of thousands of eyes no longer see the players themselves; they are judged by what data they bring. According to your average numbers collected, what is the likelihood you will be successful? Where do you fall short and where do you excel?
Currently, I play in an environment where every practice is filmed, so we may go back and evaluate our play, and every practice is stated and read aloud at the end of practice. Those with the highest numbers are clapped for and congratulated. Those with the lowest numbers look around the huddle to see if anyone is stunned by their horrible performance.
Is it okay to have an off day?
My coaches would say yes, but the numbers tell me no. Regardless of age or sport, there is always one person on the same team you must compete with. For the sake of competition among teammates, this is inevitable. Every practice is not only a chance to improve for your teammates, but an opportunity to beat the person in your spot. So, you have an off day. You are not performing at the level you were yesterday. Those stats are accounted for and will never go away. That one practice now puts your competition at an advantage. They have a good day ahead of you until you prove your bad practice was a fluke.
However, there is an aspect of the game the stats cannot cover, and some of those qualities are beginning to be taken for granted. The value of an athlete cannot be determined by numbers on a chart or percentages. There are no stats for communication skills, leadership, positive attitude, being a good teammate, or even working hard. These are the inner qualities of the athlete and the game that are crucial in pressure situations.
Character is not being praised enough
The toxicity and pressure of stats have created an environment of selfish athletes and, more importantly, the rise of a mental health epidemic among athletes. Challenges including stress, burnout, eating disorders, depression, and anxiety are affecting 35% of all elite athletes. Not to mention the serious lack of resources for athletes at all levels. Collegiate athletes report higher stress levels than the average student from a decreased amount of sleep, overtraining, pressure to perform, and a lack of free time.
Now those same student-athletes are expected to walk into practice and put up adequate stats that will either suffice for the day or torment the mind till tomorrow. This has nothing to do with the mental toughness of an athlete. I am describing a lack of confidence in the athletes that care an exceedingly large amount. Athletes that care so much they are crushed at the thought of losing or even if their team has an off day. Those that reward themselves as worthy based on their performance levels.
Can we break this cycle?
How can we put an end to the question, “What are my stats?” First, collegiate programs need to implement a simple process where athletes have the opportunity to talk to a sports psychologist. The lack of resources for athletes dealing with mental health issues is apparent. As counseling is offered for regular students, it is just as crucial that student athletes have access to a sports psychologist. Second, there is an overall lack of training among the coaching staff. Spot signs and symptoms early in a player’s behavior and then know how to deal with the situation. This is not to say that technological advancement has not greatly improved athletes’ performance, but there needs to be a line that is drawn. We are athletes because of our drive, dedication, focus, and leadership. We are not numbers on a sheet.