Oct 7, 2021Q&A with Andrea Wieland, Penn’s Sports Performance Associate Director
Dr. Andrea Wieland, an experienced professional with more than two decades of training athletes to peak physical and mental performance, is in her third year as Associate Athletic Director for Sports Performance.
In her position, Wieland leads the Sports Performance team, which is comprised of sports medicine, athletic training, strength and conditioning, nutrition, sports psychology, and mental health and wellness. The program, one of the Penn Athletics Centers for Excellence, aims to maximize a best-in-class partnership with Penn Medicine to provide state-of-the-art health, safety, and sports performance environment for Penn’s 33 varsity programs and nearly 1,000 intercollegiate student-athletes.
In a recent interview with Penn Today, Wieland spoke about mental health and the importance of seeing athletes as whole people.
Below is an excerpt from that Q&A session.
In addition to the Sports Performance Department as a whole, you are in charge of the core area of Mental Health and Performance. What sorts of issues do student-athletes come to you with?
It certainly varies but some of the common ones are performance anxiety, which relates to the fear of disappointing others, the fear of making mistakes, being challenged by high pressure. Some others may be about just managing stress in general. There are a lot of demands of student-athletes, which are different from regular students.
We discuss managing expectations of themselves and understanding that self-care isn’t selfish and managing what they think others’ expectations of them are.
Has the pandemic had an impact on the mental health of student-athletes?
The pandemic, absolutely, has had an impact on the mental health of our student-athletes. To take away something with which they’re highly identified, that is a form of self-expression, take away their community, take away the structure of their time in terms of being at classes and being at training was very difficult. You’re not together. You only have four years to work your eligibility; in rare cases, five or six. Some of them won’t have that opportunity and that’s really challenging. As we’ve come out of quarantine and returned to be back together, I see an incredible amount of appreciation and excitement, joy, and gratitude that we’re back to a more normal way of doing things, even though there’s masks, and testing, and precautions, et cetera.
From a sports psychologist’s perspective, have you seen an increased focus on mental health among athletes in recent years?
I think it’s definitely in the media far more. We’re more open to talking about it. More professional athletes and elite athletes are willing to admit to some of their struggles and challenges, so that has been an important conversation I think society-wide and probably worldwide.
Athletes can be prideful and feel like they have to figure out everything on their own. I feel like that’s certainly part of the conversations we’re having with our student-athletes, especially our men. We really want to reduce stigma and normalize the mental health conversation as part of you as a whole person. Our student-athletes may not access the many resources that are available now during their time here at Penn, but maybe in the future—because we’ve normalized that conversation and they’ve been struggling or are in distress—they will think of getting a mental health checkup in the same way as getting a physical checkup or a dental checkup.
To read the full Q&A with Wieland from Penn Today, click here.