COVID-19 has physical, nutritional and psychological consequences that may impact on the safe return to sports and general health of athletes (Pillay et al., 2020; Toresdahl & Asif, 2020). For student-athletes there is an imminent need to analyze the multiple impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has on their mental health to develop psychosocial support initiatives for this subpopulation. Thus, the aim of this study was to examine wellbeing, stress, anxiety, and resilience levels of student-athletes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two hundred fifty student-athletes (56.4% females; 22.06±5.07 years) from two European Physical Education Faculties (Athens and Cork), of which 74 were non-elite collegiate athletes, 143 pre-elite athletes, and 33 elite competitors, completed online five questionnaires: International Physical Activity Questionnaire, Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, Perceived Stress Scale, Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale, and Brief Resilience Scale. Statistical analysis included descriptive and inferential [i.e., MANCOVA with vigorous physical activity (VPA) as covariate] statistics.
A statistically significant difference on mental wellbeing was observed between student-athletes of different athletic level (F=11.19, p<.001, η2=.083), while VPA adjusted this association (F=6.84, p=.009, η2=.027). Elite competitors (54.76±1.44) had higher mental wellbeing levels than pre-elite athletes (50.42±.68) and non-elite collegiate athletes (46.19±.95). No further significant differences were observed for stress, anxiety, and resilience (p>.05).
The results indicate that COVID-19 restrictions did not negatively affect elite student-athletes’ mental wellbeing, while non-elite collegiate athletes showed the lowest levels of mental wellbeing. These differences were mediated by VPA, providing evidence that increased VPA had a positive effect on student-athletes’ wellbeing.