By Aleksandra Sidorova
SUNY Plattsburgh junior Lindsay Guzzetta, a fitness and wellness major, received $1,500 from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to fund her research project. Guzzetta is the first in the department to receive research funding as an undergraduate student.
Guzzetta’s mentor, Dr. Andreas Stamatis, the fitness and wellness leadership program coordinator, approached her with the opportunity due to her good academic standing, interest in studies and high GPA.
“When you want to work with somebody, you want to work with the best,” Stamatis said.
Funding is difficult to receive for a variety of reasons, including the sheer number of other applicants and Guzzetta’s inexperience in conducting research as an undergraduate student. She also has additional responsibilities as a student athlete that would make it difficult to pursue a research project.
“A lot of the time, you submit and you get nothing, which is fine. So this is really big for us, really huge,” Stamatis said. “[Guzzetta] proved herself as a superstar, and we got [funding].”
ACSM approved the initial project proposal in November 2020 to research the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of student athletes. However, pandemic restrictions made it impossible to conduct research until now. Guzzetta and Stamatis have since revised the topic of research to instead focus on further researching the correlation between mental toughness and mental health.
According to Stamatis, mental toughness is “skills that can help you face adversity in pursuit of your goals.” This includes problem-solving skills, decision-making, emotional and attention control, and confidence. The concept of mental health refers to students’ psychological well-being. The research is based on the idea that the more mental toughness athletes have, the better their mental health is.
“Everything takes a lot of time and you have to learn to manage yourself well enough,” Guzzetta said in regards to student athletes’ mental health. “This is only the first three weeks [of the semester]. I’m definitely feeling it already, and games haven’t even started yet. Everybody’s feeling it — we’re just exhausted.”
The project focuses on female student athletes, as they are an underrepresented group, and it is personally relevant to Guzzetta, as a female student athlete.
Currently, the project has completed its data collection stage. With the help and approval of Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Michael Howard, Guzzetta and Stamatis sent out emails to female student athletes inviting them to participate in a survey. The survey evaluated the mental toughness and mental health of more than 65 participants.
After the data is collected, a computer program will then automatically select 40 participants with similar scores, and divide them into two equal groups, labeled “strengths” and “weaknesses.” The “strengths” group will watch an educational video about their strengths — the mental toughness parameters they scored high on in the survey — and the “weaknesses” group will watch a similar video that discusses the parameters they scored low on the survey. Then, the participants will redo the survey to indicate how the “psychological skills training” videos affected their mental toughness and mental health.
The project tests both the ideas of “positive psychology,” which points to focusing on one’s strengths to build mental toughness, and sports psychology, where the focus lies on weaknesses in order to improve performance.
“We’re trying to take that philosophical disagreement in theory and see which one works better,” Stamatis said.
Because the training videos are about an hour long, the funding is used to reward the students in the groups for their participation with a $37.50 gift card each. Without the funding, the research likely would have been impossible.
“I’m concerned that people won’t take it seriously and won’t do the work,” Guzzetta said. “I want [participants] to actually learn from this experience. [Mental health] is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
The findings of the study could add to the bank of sports research and improve the methods applied to the training and mental health management of student athletes on this campus and beyond. The research project would also be an important personal achievement for Guzzetta.
“It’s definitely stressful, but I like the stress of it,” Guzzetta said, “Because I know that in the long run, it’ll help me out in the rest of my career.”
She also mentioned she can apply the findings of her study to help manage her mental health at college and beyond.
The research project may also elevate the reputation of SUNY Plattsburgh: Guzzetta will present the research and findings at a conference in New York City April 9, competing with students at various levels of their education.
“For us, it’s huge that we have the ability — because we’re a small school — to actually get funded, and go [to conferences], and sometimes win,” Stamatis said, recalling the success of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Nicholas Dvorscak at an ACSM conference in November last year.