Unrealistic expectations plague amateur athletes

Listening to a fourth-grader tell you that he wants to be a football player when he grows up does not warrant surprise. However, it now seems as though a fourth-grader’s dream of playing a sport he enjoys deserves the same response as the typical yet highly improbable dream of becoming the president of the United States. Fourth-graders might not, and need not, understand the statistics that correlate to this improbability just yet.

Fourth graders are not the only ones with the dream of becoming college athletes. However impressive high school students would like to think they are, they can be compared to fourth graders in this sense. The look in their eyes when they tell you of their dream might seem a little less sparkly now that they realize their dream is not likely to come true.

Each year the number of high school athletes increases while the number of athletes that make it beyond high school remains the same. All the while the amount of money, time and effort students invest in their athletics continues to grow. An annual High School Athletics Participation Survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations concluded that the amount of students who played sports between 2011 and 2009 increased by about 40,000 students, estimating that 55.5 percent of high schoolers participate in athletics.

Palo Alto High School students are part of this 40,000. When asked about her fellow student athletes and teammates, Paly senior Rebecca Tse commented on their hopes of playing in college or beyond.

“I have a lot of people on my team that realize that they don’t want to have that commitment for another four years in college,” Tse said. “But I think that a lot of people do end up wanting to play in college.”

Along with the triumphs of wins and the laughs shared amongst teammates after and during practice comes a concern of the future and what it does or does not hold. A looming question persists: Is the money and time commitment student athletes put into their sports a worthwhile investment, since there are no guaranteed results?

Tse is a coxswain for the Los Gatos Rowing Club  and has committed to the University of  Michigan’s women’s rowing class of 2019. According to her, the 20 hours a week she spends on her sport is worth the investment but at times it is hard to balance the time with her academic work.

“You realize that you can’t pick one over the other, so you kind of just make do,” Tse said.

The amount of time invested by student athletes into their sport is a lot compared to the amount of athletes that continue to play after high school. According to an NCAA report, chances of high school athletes continuing to participate in their sport after graduation are slimmer than current competitive universities admission rates. On average, 6.2 percent of high school athletes play their sport in college. The transition into professional sports chances are even slimmer. Only 2.6 percent of college athletes go to the pros, and only 0.13 percent of athletes go straight to professional athletics from high school.

The slim chances of going pro or playing college sports does not come as a surprise to most, yet the competitiveness of high school sports has increased dramatically over the past few years and some of the effects of this increased competitiveness are interesting. The increased amount of injuries has increased dramatically as a result of the intensified competition.

Athletes physically pushing themselves despite ongoing injuries is a tendency created by stress surrounding greater competitiveness. Disregarding injuries as teenagers can lead athletes to suffer more severe and longer lasting effects. Concussions are one of the many injuries athletes suffer from. Concussion rates reported in 2007 by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) reflect some of the negative effects of the growing intensity of sports.

The NLM found that 8.9 percent of high school athletes’ and 5.8 percent of collegiate athletes’ injuries are concussions. “Concussions represented a greater proportion of all injuries among high school athletes,” the NLM said. According to a recent article by Health Day, research shows that Concussion rates have doubled between 2005 and 2012. Life long injuries for a hobby that will rarely last beyond youth are not worth the risk.

Like any smart investor, one values an investment with a good return. Why then do athletes invest so much time, energy, and money into competitive sports when they will not continue playing out of high school. The chances that one may make it beyond high school might be the reason, or the thrill of the competition. Or, maybe, student athletes simply enjoy playing their sports and want to have fun.