Are Young Athletes Under Too Much Pressure to Succeed?

In today’s high school sports, it is usually obvious which athletes are a cut above the rest. These are the kids who spend countless hours every day practicing their sport to become better. Some call them crazy, others call them dedicated.  What some people may not realize, though, is the amount of pressure that young athletes are put under to progress in the athletic world, from peewee leagues to high school, to eventually college and beyond.

Many sports, from the big money makers such as football and basketball, to those in the lower echelon like lacrosse and swimming, exist at the college level. That means that these colleges recruit athletes to compete for their schools. The modern day recruiting process, however, doesn’t begin in high school; young athletes, as young as elementary school in some sports, are ranked, scouted, and compared to one another very early. While some kids may be on the community basketball team just to do something, others are in the gym whenever they have free time, doing drills over and over again until they can perform the action with perfection. Every sport has that population of kids who do the same, all for the sake of being the best

Even though scouting athletes at a young age may seem necessary for colleges, it isn’t good for the mental development of a child. Ranking an athlete as young as eight years old is somewhat trivial, as a lot can change in the ten years between then and their senior year of high school. It’s good to have a drive to be the best, but when kids are constantly trying to one up one another to be a lower number on a list, one has to wonder if the only thing they know is trying to be the best. The pressure to be better than everybody shouldn’t be put on young people, especially when they still have more time to develop.

A few years ago, I read an article in Sports Illustrated about a young in-line skater from Florida by the name of Corey Gahan, who, in 2002, was a world champion at the age of 13. His father, who pushed him to be better than everybody else, started injecting him with steroids and HgH to give him an edge on the competition. Every time he was given a shot, he felt remorse for what was happening, but blocked it out because he wanted to please his father. Eventually, the whole situation backfired, resulting in his father being jailed and him being banned from competitive skating.

While this case is very extreme and rare, it is an accurate depiction of a young athlete being pressured to be great. Fifth graders don’t need to be scouted in their sport. A middle school quarterback doesn’t need to be offered a scholarship from a major college. Though winning is a fun thing, and though it does feel good to be better than someone else at something, it is unhealthy to teach an athlete early on that they must be the best in what they do.