It’s not just about the game

Challenges student athletes face off the field

 

Grab your chips and drinks! Football Season’s here! The excitement is all around us as the schedules fill up and your neighbor wears your competing team’s swag as he mows the lawn. It’s all about that win and climbing the ranks. The adrenaline is pumping and the pressure is on, as your team runs onto the field.

But have you ever considered the challenges that athletes must conquer off the field?

Whether you’re a fan, an athlete, or the parent of an athlete, it is time for us to start thinking about these challenges.

Fort Bend Women’s Center’s Stephen Regan shares five major challenges that he has seen student athletes experience throughout his athletics and teaching career…

 

1.       Separating life from sports

What have coaches taught for decades? “If you want something, you’ve got to work hard at it. If you don’t succeed, work harder until you get it.” In the same way, grades and working to earn money are reinforced by teachers and parents.

Working hard for what you want can be great, and while this may be the appropriate approach in these instances, are we teaching our young people how to accept coming up short?

For example, let us consider relationships. People are not something to be conquered. If a woman says “no” to a romantic advance, the solution is not to try harder, but rather to understand that we cannot always have what we want.  We need to make sure we are teaching our kids how to accept hearing “no,” cope with it, and move on.

2.       Societal obsession with sports

As a sports parent, I know it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and get wrapped up in your child’s success on the field. But we must keep the big picture in mind.

In a teachable moment, is it more important to us that our child is in the starting lineup for the game or that they have a good attitude and learn to treat others with respect and kindness?

Many buy into the “win at all costs” philosophy, and as a result, society has really blurred the priorities.   It may be a good time for us to step back and ask ourselves what message we are sending to the next generation.

3.       Reputation of toughness

Football is a violent game and football players are expected to refrain from showing weakness. Many young men choose to play sports simply to be considered “tough” and ultimately to be respected. Being tough has always been a societal pressure for boys. But for boys in sports, the pressure is even more exaggerated.   

Boys are rewarded with approval for their ferocity on the field, and an aggressive player who is known for big hits will certainly be one of the coach’s favorites. For some, the coach may be the only father figure that they have.

It can be very difficult to snap out of that mentality and leave the field with a different perspective. In practice, weak is bad and aggressive is good. How can we ask kids to inflict pain on the ball-carrier during practice and then turn around and expect them to be empathetic toward a kid who is getting bullied in the hallway?

It may be helpful to examine our expectations because navigating adult approval can be difficult for young athletes. 

4.       Group Expectation – Teammates or Enemies?

When you belong to a sports team, you are taught to “stick together.” But what if one of your teammates (a leader) is bullying a kid who is not on the team? If you stand up for what is right, you may be alienating your teammate and going against that group expectation of “sticking together.” While comradery is an important lesson in itself, we should still encourage individuality and teach kids/players to stand up for what is right.

5.       Pressure of being in the public eye

Part of being an athlete is being a member of something bigger than yourself.  Your actions reflect not only on yourself, but everyone associated with the athletics program. This is a lot of pressure to place on a kid and they need to be prepared to represent the coach and other teammates accurately. That said, athletes must learn impulse control, like not posting every thought on social media. It can and will be used against YOU! They have to begin thinking like adults from an early age, learning that their plays are important everywhere, not just during the game.

 

 

So, to the parent of the athlete(s): My best advice is to teach them what’s appropriate on the field and off the field and make sure they know the difference.

To the athlete(s): Play with all of your might, make your fans proud, but remember your time on the field will end tonight and people will be looking. Make them proud… off the field too!

To the fan(s): Cut them some slack. The pressures that athletes face are not always easy. It’s important to support the player but, as a society, we should cheer for who they are on AND off the field.

 Stephen Regan | Fort Bend Women’s Center | Education & Outreach Advocate