A reflection on the purpose and effects of high school sports
ACCORDING to the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s (MHSAA) handbook, it is the role of the District Superintendent to “Use all means possible to bring to the community a full realization of the value of athletics as an educational tool in training citizens.”
While this certainly is a fair point of view, especially coming from an organization as reputable as the MHSAA, it can be said that the 19 board members and representatives who put policies such as these in place are among the minority concerning the bigger issue of the purpose of sports. While they believe education is a main goal of athletic participation, the athletes themselves may express different beliefs about why their inclusion in sports matters.
Consider this: The average high school student in the U.S. will spend 23% of their day after school playing sports, proving that time-consuming athletics plays a significant role in one’s inability to spend a preferred amount of time doing other productive things. The increasing popularity of this system disallows us to think about purpose, as we are unlikely to ask ourselves: Why am I doing this? What is the goal of my involvement in this sport?
The answer to this question will vary depending on who you ask, as many have different opinions on why high school sports may or may not be important.
“It’s a motivator to do the academic piece, and it’s an addition to what we do in the six-period day for high school kids,” Dexter Community Schools Superintendent Chris Timmis said. “So, it is an important part of the school experience and you can learn things on a field or in practices that you can’t learn in a classroom.”
Generally, the administration considers athletics important from an educational standpoint, only stressing the fact that they teach you certain virtues required to become a successful adult, that sports help you learn as a child, but eventually will become less important as time goes on and will diminish on one’s list of priorities. As only a select few will go on to compete at a higher level beyond high school, the majority of athletes will have short-lived (if not unenjoyable) sports careers. And the student-athletes are beginning to realize this bitter truth. The U.S. is at an all time low in the number of athletes competing at a high school level, and at an all-time high in the number of young kids (ages 3-8) playing sports.
“You can find a 10U national championship tournament going on in five different locations in the same sport,” Timmis said. “There’s a lot of money being made off of families and kids.”
As for the elite athletes who have a better shot at that rare professional career, they are investing significant amounts of their time, money, and energy into maximizing their chances and breeding themselves into the ideal athletic machines, often with consequences such as poor academic performance; nevertheless, others find that sports actually aid in a students ability to perform well in school.
“Sports help me manage my time because I won’t do something until late at night after practice.” senior Nathan McConnell said. “Sports help me get rid of my procrastination because I can focus.”
Eligibility is a legitimate concern as well. To be considered ineligible for athletics at DHS, one must be failing 2 classes (E’s) or have a GPA less than 2.0, a low academic standard for failure. This policy of allowing sub-mediocrity in the classroom works against Timmis’ claim that education is more relevant. One might argue that the bar needs to be set higher to allow excellence at school before excellence in athletics is even allowed, much less expected.
Given the existence of this issue is no mystery, the administration and the majority of coaches in Dexter are trying to avoid problems such as this by providing a healthy and stress-free environment for athletes to play sports recreationally, without the common push for teams to exist solely for the purpose of winning at all costs. An athlete is likely to have a similar goal driven from a natural urge to be competitive, noting that their reason for participation can be misaligned with the school’s policies.
The Dexter student-athlete handbook believes that athletics as a community resource exist to “Enhance individual self-esteem, mental alertness, school pride, and competitive spirit”, all positive qualities aimed towards the betterment of athletes. However, this 2014 document may not be so timely, as sports culture has changed drastically, even in a period a short as five years.
That said, the future purposes of sports are undecided. Considering that there are so many ways and so many reasons to care and invest into athletics, it is likely that sports in general will continue to be a staple in the mainstream high school experience, with emphasis on the resulting edification that comes from being part of a team.
“[Sports teach you] how to win, how to lose, how to work hard, how to be a good teammate, and how to support people while competing with people.” Timmis said. “You learn how to be coached, which is going to pay off the rest of your life - you will you get humbled inevitably.” “There is always someone better at that game than you are, and that’s an important life lesson. You will you learn through failure. There’s no place you could fail faster and more often than in sports, but that’s what makes you better, and that’s what happens in life.”