Do female college athletes lack mental toughness?

I don’t know. I don’t watch women’s college sports, and thus have no opinion.

But Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post has one. She sees a problem:

The data shows that since. . .2012, female athletes have become more anxious, more prone to depression, less adult and more insecure than ever before. What is up with that?

According to a 2016 NCAA survey, 76 percent of all Division I female athletes said they would like to go home to their moms and dads more often, and 64 percent said they communicate with their parents at least once a day, a number that rises to 73 percent among women’s basketball players. And nearly a third reported feeling overwhelmed.

Naturally, these numbers are thought to reflect a larger trend among all college students. Since 2012, there has been a pronounced spike in mental health issues on campuses, with nearly 58 percent of students reporting anxiety, and 35 percent experiencing depression, according to annual freshmen surveys and other assessments.

According to Jenkins, social psychologists attribute this development “at least in part to a culture of hovering parental-involvement, participation trophies and constant connectivity via smartphones and social media, which has not made adolescents more secure and independent, but less.” To this mix, Jenkins adds the preoccupation of college students with “safety,” including “emotional safety.”

The left, of course, has exploited this concern, using it as a pretext to “protect” students from views they disagree, or are supposed to disagree, with. The cycle is a vicious one because the more that students are encouraged to feel harmed by the expression of non-conforming views, the more fragile and insecure they become.

At the same time, students feel entitled to success. Citing survey data, Jenkins reports:

Nearly 60 percent of high school students say they expect to get a graduate degree — when just 9 to 10 percent actually will. And 47 percent of Division I women’s basketball players think it’s at least “somewhat likely” they will play professional or Olympic ball. . .[T]he reality? The WNBA drafts just 36 players, 0.9 percent.

It falls to college coaches to deal with female athletes who are, simultaneously, fragile and overconfident. It’s up to the coach to provide realistic assessments of his or her players and to award playing time accordingly. This has never been easy. In the environment described by Jenkins, it is perilous:

In women’s sports especially, there has been an ugly surge in complaints of “verbal abuse,” with investigations at more than a dozen programs between 2010 and 2016. In some cases, coaches were relieved for legitimate cause.

But in others, decorated coaches were suspended, were fired or resigned even though there was no evidence of mistreatment. At Nebraska, Connie Yori was the 2010 coach of the year and took the Cornhuskers to a Big 12 regular season title, a Big Ten tournament title and seven NCAA tournaments in 14 years, before she quit last season in the wake of complaints that she was “overly critical” of players and made them weigh themselves.

(Emphasis added)

The upshot is something akin to panic in the ranks of women’s basketball coaches:

Talk to coaches, and they will tell you they believe their players are harder to teach, and to reach, and that disciplining is beginning to feel professionally dangerous. . . .

Coaches are so concerned about this that at the annual Women’s Basketball Coaches Association spring meeting they brought in no fewer than three speakers to address it. Youth-motivator Tim Elmore lectured on “Understanding Generation iY.” And a pair of doctors discussed “Promoting Mental Health Strategies and Awareness.”

But all the lectures by all the psychologists and “youth-motivators” in the world can’t get around this reality, with which Jenkins concludes her outstanding article:

Coaches can’t afford to feel sorry for players; they are there to stop them from feeling sorry for themselves.

Coaches who accomplish this in today’s college milieu are best educators on campus.

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