Young People Ask . . .
Team Sports—Are They Good for Me?
“I love sports. I get a really good feeling. And I enjoy being with my friends.”—14-year-old Sandy.
“FUN!” “Excitement!” “Winning!” These were some of the reasons U.S. and Canadian youths gave when they were surveyed as to why they took part in organized sports. Evidently, many youths share their enthusiasm.
Take the United States, for example. According to the book Your Child in Sports, by Lawrence Galton, “each year, 20 million American kids aged from six up play, or try to play, on organized sports teams.” And whereas just a few years ago organized sports teams were almost exclusively male, girls in record numbers are now pitching baseballs, shooting baskets, and even competing with one another on the football field.
Perhaps you are the athletic type and feel that joining a team would be fun. Or it may be that you are getting a lot of encouragement—perhaps even pressure—from parents, teachers, or coaches to do so. Whatever the case, getting involved with team sports requires a sizable commitment of time and energy. It only makes sense, then, to be aware of some of the pros and cons. First, let’s look at some of the advantages.
“Bodily training is beneficial for a little,” says the Bible. (1 Timothy 4:8) And young ones can certainly benefit from physical activity. In the United States, alarming numbers of youngsters suffer from obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Regular exercise can do much to bring such problems under control. According to an article in American Health magazine, youngsters who exercise regularly “achieve greater aerobic capacity than sedentary [inactive] kids. Frequent exercisers also perform better in sports and practice better weight control.” Researchers also say that exercise can relieve stress, reduce fatigue, and even improve your sleep.
Interestingly, the book Your Child in Sports observes: “It has become evident that many adult health problems have their seeds in early life.” Many doctors thus feel that the benefits of regular exercise may extend into adulthood. Writer Mary C. Hickey reports: “Research has found that children who play sports are likely to be more physically active as adults.”
Many feel that there are other significant benefits to team sports. One father said regarding his son’s playing football: ‘It keeps him off the streets. It teaches him discipline.’ Others feel that playing on a team teaches a youth to work with others—a skill that could have lifelong benefits. Team sports also teach youths to follow rules, to be self-disciplined, to exercise leadership, and to deal graciously with both success and failure. “Sports are a great laboratory for young people,” says Dr. George Sheehan. “They give students direct experience in the things they often hear about from teachers: courage, mastery, dedication.”—Current Health, September 1985.
If nothing else, being on a winning team can be a boost to one’s self-esteem. “If I make a touchdown or I make a shot,” says young Eddie, “I feel pretty proud of myself.”
Fame, Fortune, and Popularity
For other youths, though, the real appeal of team sports is gaining the approval and recognition of their peers. “Every time you do something good,” explains 13-year-old Gordon, “everybody’s always patting you on the back.”
The book Teenage Stress, by Susan and Daniel Cohen, acknowledges: “If there seems to be any sure road to popularity, especially for boys, it’s athletics. . . . You will rarely find the star of the football or basketball team hurting for recognition.” One survey revealed just how highly esteemed athletes are. Students were asked whether they preferred to be remembered as an athletic star, a brilliant student, or the most popular person. Among boys, being an “athletic star” was the number one choice.
That a football or basketball player garners more respect than a scholar is not so amazing when you consider the worshipful attention the media heap upon professional athletes. Much of the publicity focuses on their astronomical salaries and lavish life-styles. Little wonder that many youths, particularly those in the inner city, may see school sports as a stepping-stone to prosperity—a ticket out of poverty!
Unfortunately, reality falls miserably short of such expectations. An article in Current Health magazine entitled “How Many Athletes Make It to the Pros?” gave some sobering statistics. It reported: “More than 1 million boys [in the United States] play high school football; almost 500,000 play basketball; and about 400,000 participate in baseball. From high school to college, the number of participants drops drastically. Only about 11,000 athletes altogether participate in college football, basketball, and baseball.” From there, the statistics take an even gloomier turn. “Only about 8 percent [of college athletes] are ever drafted by professional teams, and only about 2 percent sign a professional contract.” The article then gives this reminder: “Even signing a contract doesn’t mean that an athlete will make the team.”
All told, then, “only one out of every 12,000 high school athletes will become a pro.” That may not be a lot better than the odds of winning first prize in a lottery! But at the very least, you may wonder, cannot an athlete receive a free college education for all his trouble? Once again, the odds are not so good. According to the book On the Mark, by Richard E. Lapchick and Robert Malekoff, “of the millions of high school athletes . . . , only 1 in 50 will get a scholarship to play in college.” Another dismal statistic is: “Of the top players who receive scholarships in big-money sports like football and basketball, fewer than 30 percent will graduate from college after four years.”
For the vast majority of players, the dream of becoming a rich and famous athlete is simply a fantasy—a pipe dream.
When you consider the prospects of improved health, character development, and increased popularity, joining an organized sports team may still seem like the smart thing to do. But before you rush out the door to attend tryouts, consider what was said in the Ladies’ Home Journal: “More kids are signing up for organized sports today than did any previous generation. The bad news: They are dropping out of these sports programs in record numbers.” Dr. Vern Seefeldt, an expert on the subject, is quoted as saying: “By the time they’re fifteen, seventy-five percent of kids who have ever played a sport have dropped out of it.”
Consider Canada, where the sport ice hockey enjoys enormous popularity. In one amateur hockey league, 53 percent of its over 600,000 players were under 12 years old. However, only 11 percent were over the age of 15. The reason? Most youngsters have quit by that age. Why do so many quit?
Researchers say that such dropouts usually give a surprisingly simple reason for their departure: The games are no longer fun. Indeed, playing on a team can be an exhausting and time-consuming project. Seventeen magazine told its readers that simply trying out for a team may involve working “three hours a day, five days a week . . . for about one or two weeks.” If you survive that gauntlet and make the team, many more hours of workouts and practice drills are in your future. Typical is the member of a girl’s basketball team who spends over three hours a day training for her game. That time could be spent in doing something more worthwhile.
Of course, many youths do not mind the grueling routine. They enjoy the fun and the challenge of perfecting their athletic skills. But there are other reasons why a large number of youths drop out of organized athletics. You need to be aware of them in order to decide whether to join a team or not. As Proverbs 13:16 says, “everyone shrewd will act with knowledge.” A future article will therefore continue this discussion.
[Blurb on page 14]
‘Most top university players who receive sports scholarships fail to graduate’
[Picture on page 13]
The popularity of athletes attracts many youths to organized sports