Importance of mental and physical health in sports

By ALEXANDRA WILDER & CHRISTIAN MOYA

Staff Writers

While student-athletes are talented in their sports and work very hard to be the best, a lot goes on behind the scenes to make sure they are mentally and physically prepared. Athletes are not immune to the pressures of the world. They get injured, overwhelmed and stressed like any other student would. It is the job of the people in sports performance to recognize that athletes are still human and to help them get back on track and excel in their sport and in the classroom.

Ruem Malasarn, Cal Poly Pomona’s assistant athletic director and head athletic trainer, is pretty familiar when it comes to sports performance. He has been at CPP since 2000 and has worn many different hats. When asked what a typical “day in the life” looks like, he said his weekdays are filled with checking in on athletes’ physical and mental health, performing rehab and treatment and having meetings with coaches and administrators. However, he has no breaks. On the weekends, he supports his student-athletes whether it is on the sidelines as their trainer or in the stands as a fan.

Malasarn oversees all 11 sports teams at CPP, so he has seen everything. Malasarn believes the mission of CPP’s sports performance is to address all athletes as people first.

“We have to understand that they are college students. They have the same stresses and things they have to deal with as every student here when it comes to attending classes, keeping up grades and communicating with professors,” Malasarn said. “We also take into account, for a lot of our athletes, it is their first time away from home.”

While Malasarn works with all the sports teams at CPP, he does have a reliable athletic training staff, along with a handful of student interns to help take some of his load off.

Track and field athlete Jalen Jenkins finds the athletic training staff very kind and helpful. “I think they are very knowledgeable about what they do,” Jenkins said. “They are super friendly. I feel very comfortable asking them for help with anything I need.”

Malasarn also makes sure to have open communication with head strength coach Chase Sanders. The two collaborate on how to make sure their athletes eat properly to sustain their demanding lifestyles, as well as check in on their mental health.

“The communication between Ruem, the other trainers and myself is nonstop,” Sanders said. “We all want what is best for the athlete.”

When it comes to nutrition, Malasarn, Sanders and the rest of the athletic trainers team up with Team Nutrition Educators (TNE). They are a mix of undergraduate and graduate students looking to pursue a career in nutrition, who help student-athletes learn what foods can fuel them, and how to plan out meals for a busy schedule.

“Are you eating enough before training? Are you eating enough after training? Nutrition correlates with getting them strong, getting them conditioned, getting them fit and keeping them injury resilient,” Sanders said. “There needs to be some level of basic nutritional needs that need to be met in order for the athlete to perform at the highest level.”

Mental health and wellness are another huge component of CPP’s sports performance. When an athlete becomes injured, it takes a huge toll on his or her mental health. Daniela Paiz, senior defender on the women’s soccer team, met Malasarn during her freshman year, one month post-operative, after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus. Her biggest fear was that she could never be the same player she once used to be.

“Ruem assured me that he would help me become stronger and faster than I was before, physically and mentally,” Paiz said. “He made me write down goals and helped me achieve them.”

Paiz praised Malasarn because he pushed her, even when she thought she would hit a breaking point. When she got cleared for certain workouts, he would come to every practice and watch her to make sure she was OK.

“We live in a world now where kids have anxiety, stress, depression and a lot of expectations placed on them that they don’t know how to handle all the time,” Sanders said. “People like the idea of being a college athlete, but it comes with a lot. I think every human being should be talking to someone … It’s sad when we see kids crumble and stop playing the sport they love due to the pressure, but that is why us, as sports performance, have a goal to support the student-athlete.”

Malasarn, Sanders, and the rest of the staff in sports performance continue to work with student-athletes, day in and day out, to ensure their college experience is the most challenging, but most rewarding years of their lives.

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