Making the right call

High school students should consider what motivates them to play sports

Brian Xu

A sharp, throbbing fire pulses through your arm, flowing down past the elbow and swelling at the wrist. The crowd of people fades into the background, the soccer game long forgotten as a silent scream works its way up your throat. Peering down nervously, you examine your hand, flexing your fingers back and forth. You hope the injury isn’t serious, but within seconds, the pain returns as an unbearable sting and you realize that the injury can’t be shaken off. You regret playing in this game — if you weren’t here, you’d still be healthy and you’d have a much easier time balancing your academics. As you trudge back to the sideline, you can’t help but wonder whether playing a sport was the right decision.

At one time or another, many student athletes have experienced injuries while playing sports. As we enter high school, participating in a sport becomes especially difficult for many reasons. Right as we settle into practices and get our hopes up for a promising season, a bout of sickness plagues our optimism and brings our expectations crashing down. Right as our athletic abilities begin to surge, our time is whisked away by homework and extracurriculars, leaving us scrambling to find time for our sport. Right as we begin to see a path of improvement, a string of inexplicable, underwhelming performances leaves us questioning our athletic abilities. With an ever-growing web of conflicts surrounding participation in sports, it’s imperative that we reevaluate the reasons why we play sports in the first place, choosing to continue our sport only if we believe it’s a healthy decision.

No matter what first gravitated us toward our sport, our motivation to play evolves, often changing significantly from our first encounter with our chosen sport.

When we were young, we were often enticed by tangible awards, inspired to keep returning to our sport for a chance of earning trophies or medals. JDS Industries, one of the largest trophy wholesalers in the nation, announced that their annual sales revenue increased from approximately $30,000 in the 1990s to over $50 million in 2015. According to JDS president Scott Sletten, this was largely due to an increased demand for participation trophies in the late 20th century. With an increase of participation trophies, instant gratification lures kids into continuing to play sports. At first, this validation may be an understandable reason to pursue a sport, but the allure of gaining physical prizes shouldn’t be a deciding factor when choosing to continue a sport.

Often, students are also pressured into continuing a sport by their parents or peers. Ever since our first practice, we’ve never had a tangible reason to stop playing our sport, so we continue to train to satisfy others’ expectations for us. We begin to lose sight of our own desires, accepting a sport as a way of life.

“The adults have won,” said Mark Hyman, an assistant teaching professor at George Washington University. “If we wiped the slate clean and reinvented youth sports from scratch by putting the physical and emotional needs of kids first, how different would it look? Nothing would be recognizable.”

Sometimes, the consequences of playing sports for others won’t be immediately apparent, but in the long run, it’s best to pursue what we truly love doing for ourselves, which will keep us motivated and allow us to stay optimistic during conflicts.

At times, pressure from others can escalate, causing us to pursue a sport solely for a line on our resume. We find that we’re quite talented at a sport, and it’s just  too good of an opportunity to pass up. We begin to care less about how we feel while playing the sport, instead focusing on how we stack up against others. This mindset can lead to success, but it can often leave us feeling hollow when we reflect on whether or not we truly enjoy our sport.

On the other hand, many of us play sports for simpler reasons. Understanding the health benefits of consistent exercise, we join a sport to destress. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students who participate in high school sports are 10 percent less likely to face obesity, have lower risk of heart disease or cancer and can save on healthcare costs. The CDC recommends one hour of physical activity daily to reap these benefits, and participating in a sport can be the perfect way to remain healthy.

For a lot of us, the community behind our sports can be the largest motivation to play. A group of close teammates can inspire us, with group morale improving when everybody works hard. A supportive coach can touch the hearts of a team, giving players more reason to put in their best efforts. When all else fails, having a friend by our side when we experience failure can help us overcome adversity.

No matter what our reasons are for pursuing sports, there are a lot of potential benefits. Sports give us a chance to be healthier, refresh ourselves from the strain of academics, bond with our peers and gain recognition for our accomplishments. However, it is critical that we examine the underlying reasons we play sports, and that we carefully consider our motivation. Just as with any commitment, participating in a sport requires numerous trade-offs, whether they be in the form of time, injuries or stress. Only when we are aware of what sports mean to us can we make decisions about whether to continue playing sports and what we would truly find joy in pursuing.