MENTAL HEALTH IN ATHLETES. Has Panchita suffered from depression?


Several investigations and testimonies demonstrate that harassment and abuse occur in Sports. The Consensus Statement of the International Olympic Committee (COI. 2016) identifies five main forms of harassment and abuse in athletes such as psychological abuse, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, abandonment and physical abuse. These factors of abuse in most cases can determine the performance of athletes, be associated with doping, increase the willingness of athletes to cheat, lead to abandonment of sport, undermine the trust that athletes place in sports administrators and have dire consequences for victims, such as psychosomatic illnesses, eating disorders, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harm and even suicide.

Today we want to share the story of one of our Colombian athletes who has gone through a situation of depression during her season as an athlete, since we want to make a call to the sports community so that they know this is the reality that affects not only this athlete, but many others as her and likewise we want with this to show how any type of abuse to our athletes hinders their performance, spirit, and attitude towards sports, which is supposedly their life's “passion”. Maria Esperanza Delgado or panchita as she is known in the country has made basketball part of her life since she was a child, she has created her path with effort, dedication and obviously with the help of her mother who has been and was her unconditional support from day one, but today we are not here to tell you about the trajectory of "Panchita", for that you can see our interview with her where she tells us about her sports life, today on the contrary we want to share with you how was the experience of this talented Colombian basketball player in Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters women's basketball (United States), because after reading the article published by Rochelle Vasquez, (former player from the same institute) about her situation of psychological harassment there, she felt the need to also share her story.

Panchita always dreamed of having the opportunity to be a basketball player and complete her university studies in the United States, so she decided to work towards that direction from a young age and dedicated her childhood and adolescence to training and enjoying this wonderful sport without putting aside her school grades and social commitments, always keeping in mind that she had to take sport hand in hand with study. “When I had the opportunity to listen and learn about the sports career of players from my homeland, I just wanted to follow in the footsteps of those like Erika Valek (One of the best guards at Purdue University and the best professional player abroad), Jassai Ferrucho ( an outstanding player who triumphed in all NCAA Division I conferences (Mtn. West Conf.)) and even my coach's son, Carlos F. Parra (who attended his college and university at distinguished US universities), all of them had the opportunity to go to study and play basketball at D1 and D2 division universities."

Her first steps towards this dream came in 2015 when she received the offer to go with a 100% academic-sports scholarship at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College in the United States. She took this opportunity without even thinking about it, because an opportunity like this could not be overlooked and also the most important person for her: her mother, supported her as she always did, in her decision to leave, because she knew it was time to Panchita begin to live the dream that she had dreamed of as a child. Her process in this place was excellent and of great teaching for our athlete, she assures that she lived two unforgettable years there, because not only she grew as a person, but also managed to develop herself sportively, obtaining distinctions both years and managing to be called to the All Star Weekend at the end of her sophomore year. "Coach Rowland polished my character, I became a better player there." However, not only NEO witnessed her achievements and joys, but also the worst day of her life: the day her mother passed away, it is at this moment that Panchita’s life changed radically.

Despite this unfortunate event, Panchita against all odds managed to return to the United States to finish her career at NEO and finally receive her diploma. After this she achieved athletically what would be her greatest achievement to date: signing with the Louisiana Tech University WBB squad, under the technical direction of Brooke and Scott Stoehr. At first, everything was a mixture of emotions for the athlete, because she was happy for this achievement, but sad and incomplete for the recent loss of her; the dream that she had shared with her mother, now she had to live and experience it completely on her own, even though she felt that her mother was accompanying her and guiding her from heaven. “My mom was always my supporter and # 1 fan for me and without a doubt she always was and will continue to be my biggest motivation to keep going. My dreams were always hers, those same dreams that today have brought me to Lanzarote, Spain. Where nowadays I play my first experience abroad in Women's League 2 for Magec Tías."

Consequently, Panchita began to live what for her would be one of her best years, because she had sportingly what she dreamed of and despite what happened she was going to give her best to stand out as Lady Techster, her sports performance was good and that was demonstrated on the court, her grades were even better than those she has had in previous years, she fulfilled and overdid her Study Hall hours so that her academic performance would not drop for any reason. She clung to the orange ball to be able to drain everything she was experiencing, because it is not easy for anyone to lose the person you love the most in life, and occasionally had emotional breakdowns, which is normal after the situation she was facing. “The only thing I could do was be resilient and hold on until the year is over, I didn't want to give up, despite everything I was always clear that I had to continue, because among all the bad things, I stared at the positive, and the positive was that I had a scholarship and a degree diploma waiting for me and my last sports dream which was to become a professional player in the sport of my love."

In each workout she gave her best. “Give your best” was the quote that was shouted in the team, and clearly it was what she always wanted to do in games. The season started and she had good minutes of play, suddenly and before the end of December everything changed for her, the attitude of her coaches changed and above all, her playing minutes were gradually decreasing, Panchita did not understand well why this had happened, and with the passing of the days she didn't even play anymore. As expected, the athlete approached Coach Brooke to find out why the decision not to give her minutes in the games, however, she affirms that the coach never spent more than 5 minutes in their conversations, which only had negative aspects to tell her and short videos where they showed only the "worse" of their game. Obviously, this worsened Panchita's emotional state, because everything that was essential in her life (family and basketball) seemed to be falling apart ... “the smile that has characterized me all my life was not there that year, it was gone and I noticed it, I noticed how my desire to play was fading, I noticed that I was carrying a very big weight in my life and I believed I could carry it alone, one of the team's assistants was there, listened to me, cried with me and advised me always to seek professional help, because she did care about her players beyond sports, thanks to her I managed to stay there, but I was afraid that they would judge me for being "weak", or for not being at the level of a D1 athlete."

The situation did not improve after all, on the contrary, the bad impressions, derogatory comments and few or any minutes of play increased the decline of the mental state the athlete was in. “I remember very much the day we played against UALR (University of Arkansas at Little Rock) since to date and after a series of games in which my minutes on the court were decreasing, that day I played only one minute. That day I was very excited about two things, it was game day and because after almost 10 months I was going to meet again with my host family from Oklahoma, they had driven 6 hours to see me play, and I am not saying that this is why my coaches had to put me to play for many minutes, but obviously I felt bad for my host family, because even though they only wanted to see me and hug me, I wanted them to see me play a little more. When I was saying goodbye to them, Mom Hackwell hugs me and I couldn't hold back my tears, evidently when I got on the bus my eyes gave me away and Coach Brooke just looked at me with contempt.

That day we lost against UALR, and I was saddened by the loss, but apparently couldn't act like a normal human being with feelings. Two games earlier we had played against the University of Texas, the Longhorns. Since we arrived at the colosseum for the morning shooting around, I couldn't stop looking and admiring every detail of the pavilion, thinking about the whole history and the number of great players who had played there. I proudly remembered my compatriot Edgar Moreno, who played for this university as well. As I enter the mighty coliseum, I see a giant banner of the great Kevin Durant on the ceiling. I was excited about what I was experiencing, because this coliseum has a lot of history and I felt a great honor to be able to play in it, although I knew that my minutes were uncertain. That night, I had the opportunity to play many more minutes than I had been playing and I did not want to miss my chance to show that I was at the level of my team... That night, we lost by a little more than 30 points, but it was clear to me, regardless of my numbers, we had lost and that was what really mattered. When we enter the locker room at the end of the game, the moment Coach Brooke starts the talk, she looks at me and says “I see that you are not crying today Maria, why so? Did you play well enough? I find it very envious of you ... Following Brooke's comment, I was completely flat, and out of respect for my team and her I did not respond at all, but I knew that was not the case, even some of my colleagues knew it too, but as they told me at some point, I was that player that year after year they had an eye on”.

Panchita was beginning to see that her situation there would not have any improvement, as she was already immersed in depression caused by the psychological abuse of her coaches and despite trying with great care to be stronger ignoring those comments and humiliations that she lived in front of her team, her personal and professional situation were in the negative side of the balance and with only 21 years living, the only result was an absolute depression. She would constantly cry alone or if any of these comments came to the fore and although a part of her winning mentality as she says, made her cling to helping her team (even from the bench), day after day her dream became her greatest nightmare. “It is true that they managed to prevent my success, they turned my dream into a nightmare day after day. It was the first time that I felt a coach instead of helping me to be better, they were doing the opposite, and that is exactly what happened. Clearly my head and heart were screaming for help, my game started to fall, I started playing badly, my statistics got worse and worse, my face when walking through the university was sad to see, but almost nobody noticed it because I was new there and they did not know the real Maria Delgado. I started to believe I was that player they told me I was, I allowed them that, but how could I not listen to a person who had so much experience first as a player and then as a coach? She knew that each comment from her influenced my life."

Depression is a common illness throughout the world, estimated to affect more than 300 million people, different from the usual mood swings and brief emotional responses to everyday problems. (WHO. 2020) Therefore, seeking help is essential and more so in a case like Panchita's, because facing such a significant loss and facing the harshness and mistreatment of her coaches did not help her psychologically with the situation she was experiencing. Today hundreds of sports clubs and institutes around the world lack an organizational structure that has the attention of trained personnel (sports psychologists) to deal with situations like this and without a doubt Louisiana Tech University WBB never offered such an option. "Coach Scott did not care about anything that I expressed I was feeling, nor about everything that was happening outside of basketball, I went for help and the only thing she told me is that I was not at the level of the team, invited me to take a look at my statistics, showed me numbers of each statistic and of course they were not good, they put me in that position. I never, ever again wanted to set foot in their office again and she only addressed me strictly for what was necessary, to ask me about my study hall hours."

Finally, “On January 11th we played against the University of Southern Mississippi and it was the last game I played until senior night, that night they put me as a substitute (with one minute left) for the only senior we had on the team. At the time of the substitution, I entered the field with the intention of giving my best, even if there was only one minute left. When the game ends I realize that for more good intentions I had, we were not going to win the game anyways... I did not understand why after a month and a half that I did not even have the opportunity to play half a minute, they had replaced me precisely in the senior night...In my opinion it was somewhat humiliating, but hey, I started to do what corresponded to me with the best attitude, what you feel about that moment, it is totally understandable, my head at that moment was screaming for help, as it did most of that year. "

I don't want anyone else to go through what me and other athletes who have been under the direction of these two coaches have gone