Extreme Sports – How Much is Too Much?

For the 30 million student athletes in America, sports can be an excellent way for high school students to build relationships, stay in shape and learn valuable skills about teamwork. But high school sports aren’t always fun and games. With scholarship hopes, parental pressure and an ultra-competitive atmosphere, some student athletes may begin to crumble under the pressure.

Pressure

How much should ride on throwing a ball in a basket, hitting a home run or running fast?

In many ways, high school sports have evolved into a high-stakes game that puts student athletes under a tremendous amount of pressure. It may start in little league with over-eager dads and coaches lightheartedly inspiring kids’ major league dreams, but it doesn’t always end there. Student athletes don’t want to let down their parents, their teammates, their school, or with high profile sports, their town.

These pressures are coming at a time when most high schoolers’ confidence and self-image are in question. Children and teens want to live up to the potential that their parents see in them. They also want to ease the burden of college tuition. Earning an athletic scholarship would fulfill both of those goals.

According to The Sports Scholarship Handbook, only 1 in 50 high school athletes receive athletic scholarships. Consider the pressure to be that one along with those from schoolwork, other activities and social lives; that is a lot for a teenager to handle. The drive to win, to be the very best, can inspire greatness in children and adults alike, but that winner-take-all mentality can also set unrealistic expectations. It is this kind of mindset that can sap the fun out of sports. Rather than create these pressure-filled pastimes, shouldn’t we use high school sports to foster well-rounded young adults?

Physical Dangers

In order to be successful in high school sports these days, students are required to commit to one sport and play on club teams all year.

When athletes play one sport day in, day out, all year round, they put themselves in danger of damaging joints, tearing muscles, or causing stress fractures due to the constant repetitive movements. Despite these dangers, coaches continue to warn students that they risk their roster spot and any college hopes by playing multiple sports.

A recent study demonstrates the alarming increase in these repetitive stress injuries. The study tracked the number of “Tommy John” surgeries, procedures done on pitchers to repair damaged elbow ligaments, and was completed by the American Sports Medicine Institute, Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center, in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Before 1997, Tommy John surgery was performed on only 12 of 97 patients (12%) who were 18 years or younger,” co-author and research director E. Lyle Cain, MD said.

“In 2005 alone, 62 of the 188 operations performed were on high-school athletes, a third of the surgical group,” Cain said. “The reality is that this surgery is successful and that’s good. But a disturbing trend of younger kids needing the surgery is troubling.”

Ironically, playing multiple sports can help athletes to be in better physical shape, develop multiple muscle groups, and keep them from burning out on their chosen sport.

Detavius Mason agrees in his article for The Guilford Orthopedic and Sports Medical Center titled “Age of Specialization: One Sport Vs. Multiple Sports.”

“Kobe Bryant, Roger Federer, Tom Brady, Lebron James, Alex Rodriguez,” Mason wrote. “When these names are brought up, a few things come to mind: excellence, transcendent talent, winning, but the thought of them specializing in one sport should not. Kobe & Federer were soccer players, Brady played baseball, Lebron played football and A-Rod played basketball, football and soccer.”

He ends with advice to parents and coaches: “So allow your child to participate in multiple sports … Participating in multiple sports also allows them to see if they are talented in another sport, less stress on the body, overall athleticism increases, gain more friends & social interaction, and there is less pressure to be perfect.”

In extreme examples, some sports can endanger an athlete’s general health. Whether students are trying to gain weight for wrestling, stay slim for dance or bulk up for football, sports can trigger some dangerous eating and exercise habits.

The Out-Crowd

High school sports can also create an “in crowd” mentality that excludes those who don’t make the cut.

Let’s face it, not all kids are athletic superstars. Does that mean they don’t love the game and want to be a part of the team? Does that mean they should miss out on the social and physical benefits of organized sports? Though some kids stay involved as managers or fans, well-organized recreational options are few and far between.

These exclusions also extend beyond general skill level. With club sports being an unofficial requirement to make many high school teams, underprivileged students are put at a distinct disadvantage because they cannot afford membership fees and travel expenses that club teams require. When tryouts come around, coaches are more likely to favor club players that they’ve seen play for years over unknowns who have only practiced on the playground.

John Cochran, a parent from Newton, Mass., argues that all students should have the chance to play high school sports regardless of skill level.

“Studies have shown that students who participate in high school athletics have higher grade point averages, fewer discipline problems and greater self-esteem,” Cochran wrote in his editorial for Newton’s Wicked Local newspaper.

“By cutting everyone except the very best players, only a small fraction of students will ever benefit from those [government allocated] resources,” he wrote. “If the prevailing philosophy is taken to its logical conclusion, public high schools should provide inferior educational opportunities to students who are not at the very top of their class.”

The Solution

My goal is not to ban high school sports, but to return sports to their original purpose: fun. If we can change the general outlook on these sports – letting kids play multiple sports, refocusing on recreation instead of cutthroat competition, and creating a fair playing field for all would-be athletes – then high schoolers can really go out and play.

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