Let me begin by saying that I love watching sports.
While my Vocal Cord Dysfunction (VCD) keeps me from playing, I enjoy cheering on York’s teams and supporting my friends. Sports are a great way to stay active, socialize, and learn valuable lessons: teamwork, determination, how to remain humble in victory, and how to handle defeat. Athletics should allow students and their families to come together for the love of the game, but for many, sports have become much more than a game. With extreme pressure on young athletes and an increasing disregard for other school activities, athletic obsession is an issue that cannot be ignored.
I am a firm believer in encouraging physical activity and promoting healthy lifestyles from a young age. I come from a family of athletes; both my parents competed in high school sports, my dad played football in college, and my grandfather coached high school football for 39 years. I participated in youth softball and basketball while battling my VCD, after which I helped coach my brother’s baseball team. My brother has also played flag and midget football and youth soccer for several years. Athletic programs have been very fun for us as a family. Unfortunately, I know that this is not the case for many student-athletes: some “elite” traveling sports teams play tons of games, including tournaments on weekends with games on Sunday mornings. While I understand that not everyone shares my Christian faith and belief that Sunday morning is for church, surely there should be some time a student can spend with their family outside of a competitive setting. For some, sports may bring family together, but more often I have witnessed parents yelling at their children, becoming angry over minute details, and taking everything to the extreme. At age 5, 10, or even 18, there is no need for parents to put so much pressure on their child; after all, it is only a game.
Much of the pressure put on both child and teenage athletes can be traced back to money. Some parents push their children to participate in elite athletics at ages as young as 5 because they think starting young will give their child a competitive edge in high school and earn them a college scholarship. While it makes sense to look out for the child’s best interests, this idea is misguided; according to the NCAA’s Recruiting Facts, “About 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded some form of athletics scholarship to compete in college”. Additionally, nearly 33 percent of college athletes will quit and lose their scholarship before graduating. The average per-month cost of participating in elite youth sports is $100-$500 per child according to MassMutual. Assuming a child participates in elite youth sports all year for ten years at a rate of $300 per month, their parents will spend $36,000. This is over three times the amount of the average athletic scholarship per year, which is $10,400. In other words, even if a student was a member of the 2 percent that receive athletic scholarships, it would take over three years for it to equal the average amount spent on youth elite sports.
Because the chances of receiving any athletic scholarship are so slim, it makes sense to encourage student-athletes to focus on academics: 19 percent of students with a GPA of 3.5-4.0 receive merit-based academic scholarships according to Mark Kantrowitz, a scholarship expert. In addition, locally-sponsored or private scholarships are attainable for most students, and the military offers millions of dollars in student aid every year in exchange for service.
By spending all of their time on athletics, many students miss out on other opportunities that may prove to be more fun and more enriching. For example, there are many students who either cannot participate in or have extremely limited time for participation in the fine arts. While many athletes enjoy the arts and are very talented in those areas, they often choose sports because—win or lose—they receive more recognition for playing a game than for painting a masterpiece or playing an instrument. They also receive more attention than they would for any academic activities or achievements, which, though it should not be the case at an educational institution, is. Without these activities, students are not as well-rounded as they could be and therefore not as well-prepared for college.
There is no denying that sports can be a fun activity; however, pushing young athletes to the breaking point in hopes of a scholarship or professional athletic career is unrealistic and often takes the enjoyment out of what should be an exciting part of a child’s life. Furthermore, by concentrating only on athletics, students are giving up other activities and aspects of life such as fine arts and academics which, in the long run, will likely have a greater impact on their careers and adult lives. Sports are just a game; life is where the real wins happen.