Social (Un)distancing: Teammate Interactions, Athletic Identity, and Mental Health of Student-Athletes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Scott Graupensperger, Alex J. Benson, Jason R. Kilmer, M. Blair Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Purpose: Physical distancing measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus have presented challenges for the mental health and well-being of college students. As campus activities ceased, student-athletes abruptly became isolated from teammates and were no longer able to participate in sport activities that are often central to their identity as an athlete. However, student-athletes who have supportive social connections with teammates during this pandemic may maintain their athletic identity to a greater extent and report better mental health. The present study examined how student-athletes’ mental health was associated with teammate social support, connectedness, and changes to athletic identity from before to during COVID-19. Method: A sample of 234 student-athletes completed surveys before COVID-19 physical distancing (February 2020), with 135 (63% female) participating in a follow-up in the month following school closures (April 2020). Path models estimated the effects of teammate social support and connectedness (during COVID-19), as well as changes in athletic identity on indices of mental health. Results: Considering all path models tested, student-athletes who received more social support and reported more connectedness with teammates reported less dissolution of their athletic identity and—in most models—reported better mental health and well-being. Indirect effects indicated that student-athletes’ change in athletic identity mediated the effects of teammate social support on psychological well-being and depression symptoms. Conclusions: In addition to advancing theory on how small groups relate to mental health, these findings demonstrate the value in remaining socially connected with peers and maintaining role identities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)662-670
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Adolescent Health
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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