Sports are meant to be fun for kids, but at what points does the hard practice and pressure to succeed become too intense?
As Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps said, “If you want to be the best, you have to do things other people aren’t willing to do.” Training to the point of exhaustion, pushing through the endless pain and reaching for a goal that seems impossible: this is what athletes must endure these days if they want a promising future in their respective sports.
With roughly 36 million kids in the U.S. playing organized sports, the stressful training and involvement it takes for adolescents to improve their athletic skills, consumes time to the point of excessive physical injury and resentment.
NDP students participate in 17 different sports, and students practice between 10-20+ hours a week, according to a Seraphim survey.
Some students, such as junior swimmer Caroline Strolic, work hard for NDP athletics in addition to their club teams. They take on their sports with extensive practices and hard work.
There are several reasons as to why some kids are no longer finding a passion for sports. Emily Bateman, senior pommie at NDP, summarized three reasons: parents and coaches are continually becoming more aggressive, the work it takes to excel is physically threatening, and participating becomes more of a job than a hobby.
According to the article from Sojourners Magazine “Why Kids Hate Sports” by David Batstone, “Youth sports are too often about frustrated parents living out their own long-lost dreams on a school playground.” These pushy parents who drive their kids to extreme levels of exertion are a large part of the reason why “70 percent of children drop out of organized leagues by the age of 13” because “it ceased to be fun.”
One NDP student said, “My dad loves the sport, and he would be very disappointed if I quit. He is the only thing that keeps me going, besides two or three of my teammates. I hate the sport, and I hate the coach.”
The NDP Athletic Director Monica Barrett said, “A lot of seniors talk themselves out of playing because they do not have time. They want to try other things after spending years in the same sport.
“It is hard to make the commitment since they are not getting anything new out of it, especially if they know they are not continuing the sport in college,” Barrett finished.
The Yahoo Parenting article titled “Kids and Sports: Is Training Getting Too Intense” by Ryan Wallace takes a stance against specializing kids in sports at younger ages since it is ridiculous for an 8-year-old boy to have baseball practice six days a week along with tournaments that go year round.
Wallace adds, “That kind of determination and work ethic is no doubt admirable, but it’s also what puts kids at risk.” The pressure for kids to succeed connects to the increasing danger of getting hurt physically.
Barrett mentioned that the three sports at NDP that are particularly mentionable in their extensive training beyond their associated seasons are Girl’s Volleyball, hockey, baseball and lacrosse. These sports do a lot of preseason workouts and training to prepare for the upcoming season and get the players in shape.
Coach Brian Fischer is the NDP baseball coach for the Freshman, Junior Varsity and Varsity teams. He says his job as a coach is to set a standard for the baseball team, the school and the community.
He said, “I think most sports are demanding, but in baseball you are able to have a longer career if your body doesn’t break down. It’s more mental than physical when it comes to throwing and hitting a ball. The ones that do make it make a pretty good living doing it.”
Caitlyn Melnychenko, the softball coach said, “This is the first year that the softball program did preseason work; the girls worked on strength and conditioning with Coach Derry twice a week from October through January. We also did some fielding and hitting work in January before February’s tryouts.”
Bateman said she usually has practice six days a week for a total of 12 hours. She also has to perform in competitions, cheer at games and dance at pep rallies.
“Emily is non-stop practicing, then cheering, then she has to come home and do her homework but by that time she is too worn out to do any work,” said her mother.
Her mother said on Emily’s day off day she will go to the gym and do cardio and conditioning. She brings her dance shoes to practice while she works out, and she is always twirling around the house. There is never a break.
Daniel Gould, the director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, stated in the parenting article by Wallace, that “In the past, sports were seasonal, and it was the norm for kids to play multiple sports in a year. Now young athletes have the option to play one sport all year long, and many are beginning to specialize in a single sport.
“Most experts around the world agree that kids shouldn’t be specializing in one sport with year-round training until about 14. here’s a lot of concern that we aren’t letting kids be kids and fall in love with sports in a healthy way,” he finished.
Balancing sports with school
Monica Barrett said she believes in order to be a good athlete and improve in sports, the key is to balance.
She continued, “Kids have so many obligations today between academics and all their activities. They need to be able to know what to eat, when to eat, and they need to have a good mentor– not just a coach, but a friend in addition to family support.”
Sophomore Robert Bateman, brother to Emily, is involved with cross-country, swim and track. He said, “Athletes should balance their school and sports according to which one has more potential. I could say school is more important than school, but some teenagers get scholarships solely off their football or baseball career. The athlete should make the choice which field has more potential, and stick to it a little more than the other.
“But as much as one has more potential, the other one must be kept in check. Too much of school can leave an unhealthy mind and unhealthy body in the classroom. Too much sports can take an athlete out of the game because of an F. It all must be balanced and watched over carefully,” he finished.
Mr. Bateman added, “Someone who doesn’t care about school could easily get behind and let their grades slide away.”
Sports psychologist Shilah Mirgain recommends that kids and their parents come up with a homework schedule to make sure everything can get done in the amount of time kids have.
She also adds that kids need down time from school and sports for themselves as well as with their families. Parents need to be careful not to overlook that when identifying what is important each week.
Caitlyn Melnychenko said, “[Balancing sports and school] is always the hardest aspect of sports that student-athletes have to deal with. The most important part is for them to understand that they are students first and athletes second.
“For some of the girls, high school sports are difficult because most of them have never had to deal with daily practices and learning to balance their schoolwork, sports, faith, and family and social lives.
“I always tell my athletes that school has to come first since a strong educational foundation can lead them down so many different roads in terms of college and career paths.”
Melnychenko finished by saying “Missing an occasional practice in order to study for a test or complete a project or paper is perfectly fine with me since it shows me that that athlete has a good grasp of what is truly important.”
Both Bateman parents agreed that being involved in a sport has allowed their kids to learn determination and grow in both endurance and confidence. They have learned to work well with others and carry themselves well in public.
Robert said he has learned to be motivated from sports. Motivation is what keeps him going, and this skill is critical for the future– in school and in jobs, there must be some drive to keep going.
Fischer said, “Playing sports teaches kids to become good teammates, work together and make friends for life. When players retire from a sport, the one thing they miss is not the game, but their teammates that they see everyday. It’s like having another family.”
Working together is a valuable skill to have. Some kids who are only children learn how to interact with other kids from being involved with sports. There are major social skills that are developed in teams.
The two most important skills according to Ms. Barrett from competitive sports are relationships and communication. She said she believes, “Kids learn to communicate in relationships and work through positives as well as conflicts. They also get better at certain skills they may not have known they had.
“It’s a learning process in any sport since they all teach different skills like coordination. The adversity and commitment they learn will make them more employable in the future,” Barrett finished.
In addition, the competitive nature of sports is helpful in the adult world since it teaches how to cope with competition in a friendly environment. This is prevalent particularly when looking for jobs.
Healthy competition, according to Barrett, is good for kids as it develops necessary social skills.
As for injuries, Barrett said the athletes who have to recover are committed to rehab, however, they lack patience. They just want to get back to their sport.
She said, “It can be especially scary for kids who are new to a sport since they are discouraged to going back to the sport. If they are not as serious about the sport, they might not return.”
Melnychenko, having played varsity softball herself at Chaparral High School for four years, obtained several serious injuries.
She said, “The worst injury I ever had, which ended my career, was tearing several of the ligaments in my knee and fully dislocating my kneecap during a college game.
She continued, “I was used to playing at least somewhat injured most of the time since I was a catcher, but it was always difficult. The worst part for me was when I was injured and couldn’t play; not being able to be on the field with my teammates was always the most difficult part for me to handle.
“It took me a while to come back from it, both physically and mentally/emotionally, but it also allowed me to pursue other interests like teaching and coaching,” she finished.
Not only are sports incredibly demanding, but there is also the possibility of getting serious injuries that could put a stop to all the hard work and dedication.
Fischer added, “Injuries do ruin sports careers, but it is a part of playing sports. We make sure they don’t do too much and try and monitor their progress. Throwing arms are a big deal when it comes to baseball as the throwing motion is not natural, so if you don’t take of it, it could hurt a player down the road and possibly end a career.”
A study done in Orlando according to the American Academy of Pediatrics found that “Athletes ages 8 to 18 who spend twice as many hours per week in organized sports than in free play, and especially in a single sport, are more likely to be injured.”
The study took in 1,200 athletes and found that 837 of them had injuries with 859 different injuries. 360 of them were uninjured, but the ones who were injured were more likely to be overly involved in a highly specialized sport.
Melanie Bateman, mother to senior Emily and runner/swimmer junior Robert, said, “Overtraining is what causes injury, and I am starting to see that with Emily’s teammates. They all seem to have something wrong with them.”
Despite some of the physical consequences that come from being too intensely involved with sports, there must still be a reason that kids are involved with them.
“Sports is an escape from reality and it gives a way for people to release negative energy about playing,” Robert Bateman said. “Sports offer a way for friends to meet up and have a friendly competition. Personally, sports allow me to release some tension in my life and it makes my body and mind feel great.”
He noted that parents and coaches can keep a sport fun if the athlete has room to breathe. Athletes cannot feel pressured during practices and games or else the sport they love will become a chore. Sports are enjoyable when there is time to have fun and joke around.
Bateman added, “The coach will always push his or her own athletes to the limit and they will persist because they don’t know how far is too far. It is up to the athlete to stop or slow down. The coach is just there to make sure the workout and training always improves one’s skills.”
According to the article “Kids and Sports: Can We Keep our Eye on the Ball?” by Elaine Cox, certain guidelines need to be followed in order to keep the sports experience fun for kids.
For one, she said that kids should not be taught that winning is the same as success and losing is the same as failure.
Cox also said, “There should be involvement in only one sport per season, with at least one to two days off per week, and two straight months of non-play during the year.
“Pressure to succeed for the purpose of college scholarships should be avoided. Fewer than 4 percent of high school athletes will actually get a scholarship to play in college and will not get a full ride. What’s more, it ends someday for everyone, with only 1 in 6,000 to 10,000 college athletes going on to play professionally,” she finished.
Melnychenko agreed with this as she said, “Most athletes stop playing competitively after high school, or, if they’re talented enough, after college; the number of athletes making it to the professional level is extremely low.”