Stop by any local high school this week and you’ll see the kids are back.
They aren’t in the classrooms, but rater on the athletic fields getting ready for the fall sports season.
They’re starting early because it’s more important to prepare for the winning team than to get going with academics.
Without unnecessary reliance on sarcasm, we have to admit that there’s value in having students hit the fields before they hit the books.
For one thing, it enables players to take advantage of what is left of the warmth and sunshine of summer weather. They don’t have to bring coats or brave frigid winds of fall. Essentially, the main environmental concern is making sure they drink enough water, and that’s easy.
Late pre-school year practices also let coaches and players single-mindedly learn plays and rules of the team without the interference of burdensome and soul-crushing loads of homework. They can devote their mental and physical energies completely on their sport for a limited time.
Additionally, pre-school year practices catches kids when they are fit and loose from summer swimming, playing and sports.
That’s the good part.
The bad part is that some coaches, school administrators, boards and parents get so caught up in winning that they want the athletes to squeeze every spare minute of free time into building fitness and skills particular to the sport they will be participating in for the school.
Early practice can sometimes extend to drills during exceedingly high temperatures, rain or approaching evening darkness. It can cut into family vacations, picnics, fun events or just the chance to get off-season rest.
For players who are unfortunate enough to have coaches who bully and belittle them, it’s the arrival too soon of the anxiety of participation.
The desire to get on the wining track at all costs can be troublesome because it exists in opposition to the belief that the original belief that sports are supposed to be fun and recreational.
In recent years, however, high school sports have evolved into just another pressure cooker that students face.
Parents of talented players have admitted that their kids don’t just live for the season — baseball, basketball, football, hockey — they extend the stress by sending them to camps throughout the year. It becomes a sort of athletic homework.
Combined with the pressures of homework in the academic realm, which seem to be getting more burdensome to the students each year, one has to wonder when the young souls will develop curiosity, creativity and the joy of just goofing off.
Add to that the truth that very few of these winning athletes will obtain scholarships, and even if they do, it is virtually certain that they will not enter professional sports.
Meanwhile, those kids who want to play a little pickup ball, catch or a casual game of volleyball are left after school without the use of the gym or a nearby field.
Here’s a suggestion:
Don’t eliminate interscholastic sports or teaching the value of playing one’s best. But do prevent coaches from bullying players or belittling them when they lose ... no more yelling at the kids.
Do make sure practices and games have spaces in between the pressure cookers. Limit practice time, and keep off-season training at a minimum.
Do ensure that a portion of the school athletic budget is set aside for the gentler intramurals.
And, above all, support local recreation organizations that keep sports where they belong — as fun and character building.