Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sports as Detriment to Health

Yesterday, I spoke about sports as a distraction to education.  But I know parents who say they need interscholastic sports because it keeps their kids physically fit.  Bunk!

I would argue that interscholastic sports does more harm to the physical health of many more kids than it helps.  How can that be?  Well, think about it.

How many kids take part in interscholastic sports teams?  On average, it's about ten percent.  Ten percent of a 1200 population school is about 120 students.  Often, even with several teams, you see the same kids playing several sports.  Now, the numbers might shift here and there, but the main point is, it is a small minority of students who participate in the teams.

These are teams, by the way, that you have to try out for, so you might get cut if you aren't good enough.  Which means in this context that even if you want to play, you don't necessarily get to.  

For the most part, it's pretty clear that sports will improve the health of those who are on the team.  But the rest of the school isn't.  Instead, they are encouraged to sit and watch others play (that's school spirit, after all).  Our focus on teams means that if we are to be good students, we sit and passively watch.  We instill this philosophy that says, "If you're not the best, don't bother" -- and let me tell you, we have generations (not just the current one) of kids who don't and didn't bother.  These teams don't encourage kids to get out there and get active.  They tell them not to bother. 

They create a class of kids who are the designated athletes and tell everyone else to give up.  Which, for the most part, they do.  If you want a population of physically fit people, that's no way to get the job done.  If you only want a few VERY fit people, then keep at it.

On the other hand, I'm not sure interscholastic sports is all that good for the jocks themselves.  I remember going to my 20th High School reunion a few years back and not even recognizing some of my classmates.  The guy who went to state in wrestling was fat and had already had a heart attack.  They star of the football team looked pastey-faced and worn out.  A lot of the jocks were still in good shape, but I was amazed  how many weren't -- they left school and never found the old glory again, so gave up.

There were others who just got sick of it because of the pressure.  In fact, studies recently showed that a lot of kids quit sports teams because it's just too much stress -- or because they get injured, sometimes permanently.  

I'm not saying that interscholastic sports is the only culprit, but I think they're a good place to start.  What if we put our emphasis on everyone doing some sort of activity -- walking for example -- instead of the few who are really good at a thing.  Because, let's face it, our lives AFTER sports are a lot longer than our lives as athletes.  But we can remain physically active all our lives if we are taught the value of it.  It would make sense for schools to focus on the longterm health of all the students.