An overemphasis on sports


Olivia Griffin, Staff Reporter

Chances are, the majority of the athletes currently enrolled at this school aren’t going to be the next Dirk Nowitzki, RG3, or Drew Brees. So, the question is, why are we putting a professional level emphasis on high-school level sports by expecting students to devote countless hours to practices and workouts, give up their summers to attend team conditioning sessions, and limit their participation to maybe one to two sports during their entire high school career?

According to statistics from the NCAA, only one in 225 – 0.44 percent – of all high school athletes in any sport will ever go pro. If that’s the case, then we need to look at the other 99.66 percent of high school athletes and realize that while sports are a valuable tool in instilling life lessons, they are most likely not going to have the same effect in creating opportunities for students that doing well in school will. This overemphasis on sports is a bad thing for us teenagers. We forget that school is important, too, and that our six-minute miles, slam dunks, and touchdowns aren’t, in fact, going to be the same as getting a 5 on an AP test, a 30+ score on the ACT, or making it into the top quartile of one’s graduating class.

When looking into the effects of sports on our society, I came across Carla Mokin’s editorial, where she states that if the U.S. hopes to keep up with rising world powers such as China and India, then we need to change our values and support not only athletic achievement, but academic achievement as well.

“When society starts to value people not for their character or wisdom, but for their physical prowess, it reinforces the idea that education is not essential for success,” Mokin said. “We ask ourselves, why isn’t the U.S. producing as many engineers, doctors, and physicists as India. We have to look inward, at our priorities as students, parents, and community members. If I get an A in honors physics, I might get congratulations from my physics teacher. But if I score a winning touchdown, my achievement is broadcasted on the morning announcements, published in the newspaper, and is a topic of discussion for the next week at least.”

Then, there is Stephen Conn, professor of history at Ohio State University, who has the strong point that if you are a devoted student-athlete, chances are that you are not taking the most challenging classes that you can in favor of focusing on your sports. While I completely understand this action, there comes a point that you do need to devote energy into your academics as well as your athletic pursuits.

“To balance the time necessary for sports with academic demands, how many students are opting for easier classes?” Conn pointed out in his editorial. “To what extent has the growth in seriousness of high-school athletics contributed to the general dumbing down of public education?”

For the record, I just want to say that, no, I don’t think that sports are “dumbing us down”, but they are limiting the academic potential of students in favor of sports. I assure you that there are plenty of intelligent student-athletes out there who don’t take WHAP or AP Bio due to the ridiculous amount of time that they spend at sports practices, or who make a less-than-ideal grade on their LAVA test because they spent every night this week at practice until 7 p.m. or later.

I do want to point out that sports ARE beneficial. They DO help students. Just like many other things in life, they are great, as long as they are enjoyed in moderation. We as a society need to modify our approach to high school sports so that we can preserve them for future generations to enjoy.

Take this fun fact: A survey of Fortune 500 companies found that more than 90 percent of corporate executives participated in sports during high school. That’s more than just a chance occurrence. Something about sports is training youth to become future leaders.

For the most part, study after study concludes that high school student-athletes generally have better school attendance records, lower dropout rates, fewer behavioral problems, and generally have higher self-esteem and self-discipline than students who do not participate in sports.

Just for the record, though, I want to point out one issue with the conclusions drawn by the studies that state that sports make students more disciplined. There is no solid proof that it is the sports themselves making students more disciplined – maybe it is just that students who are already disciplined stick with sports, while students with less-than-perfect self-discipline end up quitting the team.

Though participating in sports entails the risk of many all-too-familiar injuries, such as broken bones, stress fractures, torn tendons and ligaments, concussions, and so forth, sports do have several benefits both physically and psychologically.

“One example of how emotional health is increased through athletics is the amount of endorphins released during physical activity,” Jean M. Keelan, M.S., N.C.C., a college guidance counselor from Tampa, Florida said. “When these endorphins are released, a natural high occurs and the athlete feels good, which increases emotional wellness. These endorphins also help fight off depression and will reduce stress.”

The main problem with high school athletics is that everyone is too focused on winning, which creates this dangerous slippery slope where these athletes are forced to put the sport first. This is not a problem with coaches, administrators, or athletes. This is a problem with communities and societies. We all expect our athletes to be the best – the district champions in football, state champions in volleyball – to the point that anything less is a major disappointment. No athlete ever got into their sport because they wanted to win; he or she got into the sport because they enjoyed playing it, or wanted to be on a team, or just wanted an athletic credit for graduation. I think that the following quote from Dr. Daniel Gould, the Director of the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, sums up my view far better than I could ever do myself.

“An overemphasis on winning, year round single sport participation, and difficulties finding qualified coaches are all but a few of the concerns facing [athletic directors],” Gould said. “The over-emphasis on winning issue is especially significant as when this occurs the educational objectives for involvement are often forgotten. The general public, parents and society are placing more emphasis on winning than ever before, which, at times, pressures athletic personnel to deviate from the athlete-centered educational and personal development mission.”

So if our volleyball team does not, in fact, become the state champions for the sixth consecutive year, let’s not treat them any differently than if they had actually won. Let’s appreciate the lasting successes, such as leadership and teamwork that is learned by the team members, instead of the trophies and winnings. Trophies rust, but life lessons last forever.