Survey: NCAA Coaches, Players Grappling With Mental Health Issues

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In an NCAA-led survey, more than 80 percent of head, assistant and associate coaches across all three divisions reported spending more time discussing mental health with student-athletes than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. At high rates, coaches also reported personally facing mental health difficulties.

More than 6,000 coaches across all NCAA-sponsored sports completed the survey, which was conducted by NCAA research to better understand how coaches are supporting student-athletes as well as their own mental health. NCAA research also has conducted three student-athlete mental well-being surveys since the start of the pandemic. 

About one-third of coaches reported they "constantly" or "most every day" experienced mental exhaustion, feelings of being overwhelmed by all that they had to do, and sleep difficulties. In their responses, coaches cited pandemic-related factors, roster management challenges that include an evolving transfer landscape and additional eligibility, concerns about their job and athletics department budgets, and dealing with personal situations such as financial stress and child care. 

Coaches 40 years old or younger reported higher rates of mental health concerns than their older peers. For example, 46 percent of coaches considered millennials (born 1981-96) and 44 percent considered part of Generation Z (born 1997-2012) reported near constant mental exhaustion as compared with 34 percent of Generation X (born 1965-80) and 19 percent of baby boomers (born between 1946-64). Additionally, coaches who identified as Black, Indigenous or people of color; female; or members of the LGBTQ+ community reported higher rates of mental health concerns, similar to data found in the student-athlete surveys. 

When asked about roster management, nearly one-third of head coaches across all three divisions reported being "very concerned" about the possibility of players transferring. Simultaneously, 25 percent of coaches in Division I, 18% in Division II and 12 percent in Division III reported high levels of stress related to the perceived need to recruit four-year transfers into their program. More than 30% of Division I coaches reported high levels of concern about managing rosters due to additional eligibility granted because of COVID-19.

The survey also asked open-ended questions for coaches to provide specific feedback on what type of support they desired in the future. Responses included more staffing, better pay and access to mental health resources. 

The NCAA Sport Science Institute provides health and safety resources to college athletes, coaches, athletics administrators and campus partners. The mental health educational resources include a review of best practicesdata and research and summits and task forces. The Mental Health Advisory Group, created to advise the NCAA on emerging developments in mental health science and policy, started meeting in the fall of 2022. It is tasked with reviewing and recommending updates to the NCAA's Mental Health Best Practices and other relevant mental health materials. 

The survey results were presented to governance bodies of all three divisions at the 2023 NCAA Convention in San Antonio. A Division II-specific education session, "Mental Wellness From the Coach's Perspective," was held as well. Aggregated sport-specific data will be shared with various coaches associations for potential education and resource development later this month. 

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