GLASSBORO, NJ - When the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended the seasons for many collegiate student-athletes last spring, Rowan University assistant professor and faculty athletics representative JoAnne Barbieri Bullard, Psy.D., noticed the struggles through conversations with her students, peers and the media. That led the Rowan professor to initiate a study on "The Impact of COVID-19 on the Well Being of Division III Student-Athletes", which was recently published in The Sport Journal.
"Being a professional in this field, I could only imagine the daily challenges that our student-athletes were experiencing," said Bullard, a former student-athlete herself as she played field hockey at Ursinus College.
"Assumptions could be made, but it was important to identify how student-athletes were actually feeling, their concerns and worries, and their desired resources as they continued classes in a virtual learning environment and were isolated from teammates and friends. I felt that the only way to truly help these student-athletes was to ask them to participate in this study to assess a number of these factors, as well as constructs of anxiety."
The study made significant findings that were related to constructs based on gender, race and ethnicity, institution, and academic year, including taking part in mindfulness and self-care practices, effectively managing schoolwork, academic concerns, and concerns for the future. Bullard found the mental distress of student-athletes to be significant as feelings of anxiety, depression, sadness, worry, fear, and anger overwhelmed them.
"Underlying reasoning related to enhancing mental distress was associated with lack of resources and available facilities to train for their sport. This led student-athletes to experience decreased levels of motivation, increased feelings of stress, and feeling helpless. This suggests the need for interventions to be provided both remotely and in-person when permitted to provide modalities to assist in coping with anxiety," said Bullard, who teaches in Rowan's Health and Exercise Science Department." One primary theme and area of concern included challenges of transitioning to distance learning environments, which was significant among gender and academic year."
After the start of the semester, Bullard completed the collection of data for a follow-up study regarding the impact of COVID-19 on NJAC student-athletes and provided raw data to each institution in the conference.
"Rowan athletics has been a strong supporter of these research studies and could utilize the information received to provide appropriate programming for their student-athletes based on team needs and desires, as well as utilizing campus resources to ensure that specific elements have been addressed," stated Bullard.
Rowan’s department of athletics put these findings to good use as coaches and administrators were cognizant of the mental and physical well-being of their student-athletes, and provided support to them while competition and play was paused.
“JoAnne Bullard’s study on COVID in April helped us address some of our student-athletes’ needs by sending them information on how to cope with anxiety and change. Now having the results of the follow-up study in October, we can work with specific campus resources that can help us provide what our student-athletes need in these challenging times,” said Cristina Fink, Ph.D., Rowan’s interim associate athletic director for student-athlete welfare. “The cooperation of our coaches in getting our student-athletes to participate has been key to getting the information we need to support them.”
This support for Rowan’s student-athletes during this challenging time is ongoing, but the Profs have made great strides, resuming team workouts which follow COVID protocols, with the ultimate goal being the return to competition.