Student-athletes don’t have to fight their battles alone

Courtesy of Duquesne Athletics | Snezhana Serafimoska huddles with her Duquesne teammates prior to a game on Dec. 11.

Grace Heidinger | Staff Writer

Oct. 14, 2021

While there is often still a stigma around seeking counseling for mental health concerns, anybody can benefit from having such a beneficial source of support.

Individuals like Tim Winbush and Snezhana Serafimoska are keenly aware of this reality.

Winbush is a licensed clinical social worker in Pennsylvania. He provides outpatient counseling for student-athletes who request the service.

“Student-athletes are under a lot of pressure with academics and performing at a high level in their sport,” Winbush said. “They know themselves better than anybody else, so I ask them how I can help.”

Serafimoska is a member of the Duquesne women’s basketball team. During her freshman year, she was struggling to find a strong balance between the classroom and the basketball court.

Serafimoska was studying biology and chemistry and felt that there was not enough time in the day to keep up and to be successful in both aspects of her life.

The work she was putting in on the court abruptly came to a pause when doctors found that she had benign cancer in her hip.

“My trainer thought that I wouldn’t be able to play again,” Serafimoska said. “It was like everything I worked for my whole life and all the sacrifices I’ve made went to waste.”

Serafimoska initially felt that attending counseling would be a sign of weakness.

Winbush explained that student-athletes often believe that they can’t go to many people without being judged.

He creates a confidential space for these athletes so that they can guide the session and feel comfortable in talking about whatever they want to discuss.

“I talk with student-athletes about issue relating to the sport they are playing,” Winbush said.” But there’s other real-life issues too.”

While deciding whether to begin counseling, Serafimoska heard that some of her teammates had been attending and that it was working, so she decided to try it.

She turned to counseling offered in Duquesne’s Fisher Hall to help with the heartbreaking emotions she was experiencing.

Watching her teammates do what she loved while she had to sit out was challenging, but not a day passed where she didn’t look forward to getting back on the court.

“The mental part and trusting my leg again were the hardest parts of recovering for me,” Serafimoska said. “My therapist really helped me get through that the best way he could.”

Counseling taught her to avoid situations that would bother her and not let what people say affect her as much as it had in the past.

“I learned how to do what I do best and was able to give it my all because I was letting things go that helped me improve both on and off the court,” Serafimoska said.

Counseling for student-athletes helps aspects of life that aren’t related to athletic performance. Winbush often discusses issues related to academics, relationships and family life.

“Talking about non-sport-related issues helps them manage stress better,” Winbush said. “When this happens, they naturally increase the chances of performing at a level they are expected to perform at.”

Seeking help not only helped Serafimoska through her recovery, but also in her academic life. Attending counseling opened her eyes and allowed her to change her major to business management.

“Other people wanted me to study biology, but that wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she said.

Serafimoska thinks that student-athletes are often expected to be perfect in everything they do.

When things go wrong, they tend to be hard on themselves and are left with the impression that they’ve failed those who care about them.

“My therapist was there to remind me that we can’t be perfect and that all I can do is give my best in everything I do,” Serafimoska said. “It was a reminder I didn’t know I needed.”

Serafimoska and Winbush advise student-athletes who are considering counseling to give it a try, even if they don’t think they need it.

“Athletes should realize they don’t have to go through this alone,” Serafimoska said. “You are not the only ones going through this and you will not be seen as weak.”