Sports, Motivation and the Power of Community
by Karina Le | published Sep. 12th, 2018
“In a team sport [you] have to be able to pull yourself up, to pull everyone else around you up."
During the beginning of Fall semester, you may have noticed some chalk writings along the outside wall of the Student Alumni Union (SAU) and the Quarter Mile. You may have already figured out who wrote them — whether it be from the signatures of the volleyball team or from the drawing of an actual volleyball — but to be clear, it was written from RIT’s own women’s volleyball team. In an interview, they expanded on why they ultimately decided to write these messages.
Taylor Higgins, a second year Software Engineering major and an outside hitter for the team, was one of the first to pipe in. She said that it had been third year Biomedical Sciences major and libero Maria Simonetti's idea.
“She just wanted to empower everyone when they were starting classes,” said Higgins.
Kristie Wehler, a fourth year Biomedical major and the captain, outside hitter and libero for the team, said more about the matter.
“I think having students walk down the Quarter Mile and to see these inspirational quotes on the walls kind of gives you that push forward," said Wehler. "There’s a whole community around you that’s pushing you forward ... wanting you to push yourself to your limits and really do your best.”
The conversation soon turned into a discussion on mental health and how it affected the players both outside the game and in. Both Wehler and Higgins spoke about this particular topic.
“If you feel like you’re not at your highest point ... You wouldn’t be able to perform,” said Higgins and Wehler.
As sports players, the girls could feel if a single link in their lineup was playing a bit off and it would mess up the entire team’s tempo for their games. Hannah Sarakin, a second year New Media Design major and both the outside hitter and defense specialist for the team, described the feeling.
“In a team sport [you] have to be able to pull yourself up, to pull everyone else around you up,” said Sarakin.
The volleyball team sees their group as multiple individuals acting as one unit, rather than separately. So for them, mental health plays a huge role in whether you win or you lose. If a player wasn’t feeling well on a particular day — even if she didn’t discuss it with the team beforehand — the group would be able to feel it in the player’s moves, which could make or break a match.
However, the need to act as a whole unit in the game doesn’t always carry negative consequences. As mentioned before, the women emphasized the feeling of community they wished to share to people — particularly the new students arriving on campus — and what they experience as part of RIT’s community and as part of the women’s volleyball team.
“It’s a matter of that extra boost that pushes you forward and if your full team has that same energy and that same enthusiasm,” Wehler explained.
Despite the pro and con elements to this unity, it does not erase the fact that some people do struggle to assimilate into the college community. It also does not erase the population of people who struggle with mental illnesses, which could therefore cause them to struggle to be consistently involved in college life. RIT has resources that provide support and assistance to people who struggle with these kinds of things, but it is up to the student in whether or not they know or use these resources.
Trying to understand and treat mental health is a slippery slope. The rise of mental illness is also why so many organizations and programs have been integrated into schooling systems. It’s used as a way to educate and help prevent people from letting things go too far, because depending on when someone catches it, it may be too late. That’s why students at RIT, as a community, have to look out for each other. It's also why the action of the women’s volleyball team in trying to get that message out there is so important.
However, sometimes verbal support isn’t enough for people to feel safe and secure. Mental health is super important to RIT and it’s one of the reasons there’s a Health Center on campus. The Health Center is located in the middle of the Quarter Mile, right across from the Hale-Andrews Student Life Center, near the garden of sunflowers. RIT has a staff of trained and licensed individuals to care for students both mentally and physically. It also has doctors to treat injuries and a nutritionist and psychiatrist to make sure that if someone’s physical health or mental health is suffering, then the student can be properly diagnosed and given solutions as a way to treat it.
If a student would prefer a heavier focus on the mental health aspect — say they’re suffering from bouts of depression — there is also staff geared towards counseling in the Counseling and Psychological Services located in the same place as the Health Center. The staff are all trained as well, and will provide for students as best as they can.
There is also the faculty in the Undergraduate Advising Offices, where each college has a staff of faculty to assist students, whether it be from questions specific to their major or just to converse and network.
Then lastly, there is the large student population in RIT. People come to this university from an array of different backgrounds and there is a variety of groups and organizations to mingle into. In this community, there will always be a chance for a student to find someone extremely compatible with them. This is because RIT has gone out of its way to make sure there is always someone there for its students, but the only way to access these resources is to reach out to them first.
However, there are still students who have certain preservations and anxieties about interacting with new people. There are also people who struggle significantly to connect with others and maybe feel like there’s no one that understands them. The best advice anyone could give to student with these problems was best explained by Kirstie Wehler.
“Just find a community for yourself; do things that you love, and if you’re happy then you [will] make other people happy,” said Wehler.