Georgia State’s athletics have seen losing streaks before. But they continue to prevail

Kavonte Ivery high fives his teammates after a called timeout. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

Fans often take their team for granted after losing streaks, criticizing them at every moment. They see them as just athletes, but they are still human. While fans will simply criticize the players and coaching, the players are the ones who have to face the aftereffects of the game on a personal level. 

Georgia State’s athletic programs are no stranger to losing streaks, but fans are strangers as to how the Panther programs cope with the rough patches. From the most notable programs, football and basketball, to the smaller ones, such as baseball, everyone struggles with the feeling.

Overall, Panther athletics still have young teams, with underclassmen making names for themselves already. People forget that student-athletes are also 18 to 22 years old. 

During and after a long and hard-fought season, players have to cope with feelings and emotions away from the playing field.

The men’s basketball team experienced hardships just last month. The team went 5-5 in their last ten games this season. The last image of the GSU Sports Arena saw fans leave the arena. It came in the middle of the second half of the Panthers’ Sun Belt Conference Championship quarterfinal game against the Georgia Southern Eagles.

The team entered the tournament on a three-game losing streak, which dropped them from a top seed to sixth.

Having your own fanbase walk out before the final buzzer can be devastating to the psyche of a young team like the Panthers. 

Head coach Rob Lanier has the added task of making sure the mindset of players is not dwelling on losses, but rather focusing on the next win. During his post-game conference after the devastating loss, Lanier expressed hope for his players to keep their heads up during tough times. 

“You try to get back to basic stuff,” Lanier said. “Making it like a November practice to reground ourselves with our principles of focus.”

The Panthers also suffered an ugly road trip in Texas, where they dropped two games against the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks and Texas State Bobcats. Each crippled and effectively ended the Panthers’ chances at the top seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. 

Lanier’s team dropped to a four-seed after being at the top for some time. As a result, they fought to host a game in the conference tournament. Losing that momentum and having to play from behind can be taxing on the mind, causing student-athletes to doubt themselves. 

The team’s play on the road was also subpar at the time. Team busses and plane rides can lead to mental fatigue in young minds.

Especially for such a young team like Georgia State, the road games and little rest between games are more taxing on the mind.

“Everybody deals with [mental fatigue], and everyone has those five-game road trips,” Lanier said. “It’s not something we can complain about, it’s a level playing field.” 

The first year head coach also noted that all teams go through some sort of mental fatigue along the way. Also that the best teams are ones who not only pull through but help one another along the way. 

“As a team, we have to be able to pick ourselves up mentally after a tough stretch and move on to the next game,” Lanier said. 

The team defeated the Little-Rock Trojans in their final regular season game after losing to the Eagles five days before. Kane Williams emphasized Lanier’s ideas on moving on from losses. For the junior All-Conference guard, the mindset after a bad loss is simply to move on to the next challenge ahead.

Coupled with being a student-athlete, mental health is often underreported when players go through tough times. Redshirt senior guard Damon Wilson played through the tough times this season and was a key player on the last season’s team as well after transferring from Pittsburgh in 2017. 

Wilson puts a lot of pressure on himself to reach the NCAA Tournament. As a former four-star recruit in the ESPN Top 100, he arrived prior to the 2017-18 season and redshirted after two years with the Pittsburgh Panthers. He understands that a new coach and team is a lot for any player.

But, with high expectations for the team, Wilson wants them to be personable. The team goes through many ups and downs, and it can be hard to keep from dwell on games that got away previously. 

“It’s like a big family, and sometimes, families just don’t connect,” Wilson said. “After games losing streaks, we have to give each other time and [go] back to the drawing board.”

As the premier program of the school, the men’s basketball team is almost always a good bet to make a run in the conference tournament. However, with the team having an up and down season, such high hopes could cause stress.

“Our standards are set so high it would be a disappointment for me if we failed to make the tournament,” Wilson said.

The basketball program has qualified for the dance three times in the past six seasons, putting more pressure on the program to continue the trend. 

Although the football team is only 10 years old, they have a story to tell. The program has gone through stretches that really taxed the players on a mental level. Former players who experienced the growing pains of the program had to deal with the mental stress of being the face of a brand-new program, especially the first few years.

The team even had a winless season in 2013 and won just one game out of 24 over a two-year span. The excitement around the program was absent. Losing so many games over such a long time is both detrimental to the mental health of the players and the staff.

Those who played during the inaugural seasons had to deal with not having their own stadium and playing home games in the Georgia Dome.

“Besides not being good, we felt isolated being in the Dome,” Nate Paxton said. “We felt we were not anyone’s team, and it made losing feel worse.”

Moreover, the football players also have to deal with concussions and other serious injuries that could permanently alter their mental health going forward into the season.

As fans, not only should we be understanding of athletes during a rough stretch but make an effort to reach out to them in their times of need and vulnerability. 

Mental health is a huge issue and it impacts our student-athletes just as much as regular people. As players go through losing streaks, it’s vital to remember it’s affecting them a lot more than a fan will ever understand.

Instead of endlessly criticizing the programs, fans should take a step back and continue to support their schools, even on their bad days.