SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) – Student athletes are under a lot of pressure. Pressure to play well, maintain their grades on top of their sport and pressure to be in the right mental headspace during a game. 

That’s why the University of South Dakota created a new position to help improve student-athlete mental health and handle all that pressure.

Tanner Peterson is the new coordinator for student-athlete mental health at USD. Peterson works one-on-one with student-athletes in a therapy setting. 

“At the core of my work, I believe the foundation for strong and high performance is going to be that mental health piece,” he said. “We need people who are healthy physically, but also mentally and emotionally if we expect them to perform at a really high level.”

According to Peterson, research shows that student-athletes are more likely to experience mental health concerns than traditional students. A student athlete’s schedule can get pretty busy with classes, practice and traveling for games, which puts a lot of pressure and stress on students, Peterson said.  

“There’s just a lot of compounding factors that, frankly, leave student-athletes not super conducive for mental health and wellness,” he said. “Having a resource that has insight to these really unique challenges is what allows me and the student-athlete to connect.” 

Teams at South Dakota State University have also recognized the importance of maintaining a positive headspace as an athlete and have partnered with Kris Kracht, a mental performance consultant. 

Kracht works with the football team, as well as the women’s soccer and softball teams at SDSU, to help them regulate emotions, deal with failure, confidence and motivation and breathing techniques to train their minds. 

“What we’ve been able to do with the athletes is give them tools and skills to be able to handle the things that happen in a game,” Kracht said. “It doesn’t make our athletes invincible, but it does make them adaptable.”

Where a mental health coach helps student-athletes deal with the stress of their sport and the emotions that may come from it, a mental performance consultant works with student-athletes to turn their nerves or a threat on the field into a challenge to overcome. 

“It’s my job to help them weaponize their brain,” Kracht said. “Is their brain going to be an asset for them or a liability? Is it going to be a strength or is it going to be a weakness? Is it going to be something that will be a competitive advantage for us? Or is it something that our opponent can take advantage of?”

Whether it be tackling a student athlete’s mental health or mental performance, Peterson and Kracht agree that more emphasis needs to be put on a student’s mental state when they’re playing a sport. 

“It doesn’t matter how talented you are, it doesn’t matter if the coach has put you in the best position to succeed, if you’re not mentally where you need to be, if you’re not in the right headspace, you’re not going to perform to the best of your ability,” Kracht said.