Tarryn Morris loves the tests and trials of field hockey games, but the one challenge she cares most about overcoming is the mind game.
At a time when mental health is becoming more recognized by college athletics, Morris, a new field hockey Assistant Coach at Queens University of Charlotte, hopes to highlight mental health challenges faced by student athletes and the ways college programs can better support them.
All coaches and parents know that student athletes must learn to navigate the constant tug between love for sport and mental health challenges caused by competitiveness, mental and physical demands of athletics, and constant pressure to win. Today, many athletes suffer from the lack of understanding around issues of mental health due to the long-standing stigmatization of mental health struggles as a sign of weakness. Being tough is, after all, part of the traditional language that surrounds competitive sports.
But Morris is different. Growing up with a love for sport, Morris was involved in swimming, soccer, basketball, karate, and softball, before eventually finding field hockey. She attended Long Island University Post where she competed in both swimming and field hockey while gaining her undergraduate degree in Art Therapy.
Morris’s interest in overcoming mental health challenges had its roots in her own college experience. Before starting her freshman year, Morris tore her labrum, the ring of cartilage around her hip joint socket, and was unable to begin her college athletic career as she had hoped. It was a defining moment for her.
“After an injury you can let it break you or let it make you,’’ says Morris.
Morris was tough. But the LIU Post program also did not let it break her. With access to physiotherapy, trainers, and constant support from her teammates and coaches, Morris was able to come back stronger than ever before. She ended her college field hockey career with a total of 34 points; starting in 68 games with 15 goals and four assists
The current Covid-19 pandemic — and the widespread mental health challenges accompanying it, with the shut-down of sports and other social interactions — provided Morris a chance to reflect on how she could positively impact her Queens field hockey community.
“I feel like I can integrate my love for field hockey and my experience of field hockey with something that is so prevalent right now,” she says.
With the help of Head Coach Brandi Kist, Morris has done just that, beginning in her first three months at Queens. As a program, they have implemented mental health days. This gives players a day off from practice if they feel overwhelmed by school, field hockey, or other mental health concerns. As a former student athlete, Morris understands the need to take a step back to regain perspective. It is a concept unheard of in many sports programs
“I think mental health days are extremely important and I’m grateful to be a part of a team that values the psychological side of sports. College can be a very stressful time and sometimes the best thing you can do for the team is taking care of yourself,” says Victoria Tredinnick, one of the field hockey captains.
Recognizing the struggles that student athletes experience and being able to bring those conversations to the forefront of college athletics is crucial to the performance and wellbeing of these athletes.
“It’s ok to seek help, it’s ok to need help,’’ said Brandi Kist, Field Hockey’s Head Coach. “It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength being able to recognize that in yourself and getting the help that you need.”
Indeed, Morris has already made an impact.
Her passion for field hockey and knowledge of mental health and counseling has led her to become an integral part of Queens field hockey by “bringing a new perspective, a fresh perspective,” says Kist.
This is an exciting time for the program, coming off three consecutive years of competing in the SAC Championship Final. When asked about her aspirations for her career at Queens, Morris, without flinching, said, “I want to win a National Championship here.”
With the recognition of mental health needs amongst their student athletes, the future seems bright for the Queens field hockey program.