A (High School) Year Without Sports
I have often told friends that the only reason I attended high school every day was to make it to practice.
I hated high school. It was boring, and I was frustrated with the maddeningly slow pace of the lessons. I was an avid reader and didn’t need someone talking at me to learn.
Playing sports was my saving grace in school. I played every season — volleyball in the fall, basketball and cheerleading in the winter, and track in the spring. During summers, I strength trained and ran to keep in shape.
My entire identity in high school was that of an athlete. If I didn’t have sports, I am not sure I would have the tenacity and resilience today that I cultivated through athletics.
I regularly think about students across the world that are missing their sports season(s) this year. Of course, it pales in comparison to the losses that families have experienced fighting this pandemic.
While many of us are fortunate in many regards, it is still important to remember what else has been lost.
It is widely known that physical activity helps us manage stress and keep our bodies healthy. Both mentally and physically, we all thrive when we exercise our bodies.
High school is stressful, whether in-person or remote, and sports connect students to each other and breed positive traits such as dedication, commitment, and perseverance.
For many students, their academic success is tied to participation in sports. Most schools have GPA requirements to participate, but with sports being a zero option right now, students are having to participate in online learning without the bonus of Friday night games.
Sports are a necessity to some students who might fail to graduate. It motivates those students who exhibit low self-esteem in the classroom to stay with it and persevere through the challenging classes.
A recent study on the impact of the loss of sports shows a negative impact on student mental health:
The study, completed by a team of physicians, child health experts and researchers from UW Health and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, found that approximately 68 percent of the 3,243 student-athletes surveyed reported feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that would typically require medical intervention ― that’s up 37 percent from past research studies.
Sports are a way to blow off steam. To connect with peers. To learn to persevere when the going gets tough.
Student-athletes are missing a crucial part of their high school experience, and it is negatively affecting their mental health. Without the mental and physical benefits that come from participating in an activity, students are left with too much screen time and little interaction with their peers.
Kids are less active than they were pre-pandemic. They are connecting less with each other, and they are losing valuable skills that have built up over time.
A year without playing basketball or tennis has ramifications. Students work hard to get where they are on the court or field, and to lose this time, is a blow to their self-esteem and hard work.
For seniors that were looking forward to their final season as a high school athlete, the loss of the season is even more detrimental. There are no do-overs in high school sports. Once you graduate, that’s it. The season is over. Life moves on.
For athletes vying for college scholarships, the recruiting season has been made more difficult by the pandemic:
Recruiters could not watch players in games or practices, players could not take part in campus visits to meet coaches, and there were few summer league games where they typically could compete against other top talents in front of coaches. — Shamar Walters and Caitlin Fichtel
Without actual games, student-athletes are hard-pressed to showcase their skills. This means a loss of scholarships for many students who were hoping to play collegiately.
It might seem trivial to reflect on the plight of young adults navigating a loss of sports during their short high school years.
But for many, sports are everything. It’s the reason to get up, go to school, make decent grades, and practice after-school.
I am hopeful that sports will resume next year and that athletes will be able to continue to reap the benefits of high school sports.
Until then, we need to find ways to support students who crave the support and stability that they are missing from their former teams.
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