Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Role of Athletics at the Middle School Level

Being a former 5th-9th grade Athletic Director of ten years, I have always been concerned about the role of athletics, or rather its overemphasis, in the lives of students; especially at the Middle School level. In general, children are introduced to competitive sports at a young age. Student athletes are often asked to participate simultaneously on interscholastic school teams as well as competitive town (a.k.a. Premier or Travel) teams. Recent research raises a "red flag" as to what the age-appropriate level of competitive sports should be. When a student athlete is involved in both school and town teams at this developmental age, the issue of sports programs being overly competitive as it relates to overuse injuries and "burnout" is common.

The attitude and mentality that a parent exhibits towards sports often dictates the level of competitiveness the child pursues. This sometimes leads to youth sports being overly competitive in scope because they are parent-driven in nature.

Young athletes would feel less stress and anxiety regarding sports if parents would simply support how their son or daughter chooses to pursue his/her athletic endeavors, rather than be overly concerned about the competitive side of sports.

Most parents mean well, but sometimes they get so caught up in the competitive side of things that they overlook the fact that only a very small percentage of student athletes go on to play at the collegiate D1 or professional level. Young student athletes who chose to play competitive sports during their Middle School years should do so more for fun, exercise, and an enjoyment of the sport rather than for purely competitive reasons.

In addition, too often at this age I have witnessed the athlete who "specializes" in one particular sport and ends up either burning out a few short years later, or falling to overuse or growth plate injuries as their bodies are still developing and simply cannot take the repetitive use and strain placed on certain joints and tendons.

As in other areas of life, moderation is key. In terms of sports participation, this tack is more likely to instill a healthier outlook towards athletics; with an emphasis on fun rather than winning, and fitness over competition.

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