I was on my way home from a tennis match with a friend of mine (we both play for our club team here in Naperville Illinois), and we struck up a conversation regarding our own personal experiences and perspectives on college athletic participation. We were both college athletes, he was a ball player at SIU and I a gymnast at NIU. What I found most interesting about our conversation was that both of us had the same viewpoint on how we saw our collegiate athletic experience. Basically, neither of us could even imagine going through college without sports; that we truly enjoyed the experience, felt we gained a tremendous amount from it, and would most certainly do it all over again if given the opportunity. Two athletes, two different times, two different sports, but with the exact same perspective. Interesting, especially since I hear so much of the opposite from other parents who have kids playing sports at that level. This is in addition to the good number of athletes themselves who are currently involved (or were involved) in college athletics and who echo these same opposing sentiments. I, as did my friend Jim, find this to be a little sad and a little disconcerting to say the least.
Giving this some more thought, a brief but important question continued to gnaw at me – WHY? What is it that makes, or made, the difference between how my friend and I view our experience versus how so many young athletes view theirs today? What’s changed? I am certain that many will point directly to kids participating in competitive sports at younger and younger ages, at specializing in only one sport at too young of an age, and at the enormous amount of practice/training time kids are putting in as being major causes. And I would have to agree that all three of these points most certainly have had an impact, but…….is this all there is? Is there another factor, or factors, many are not considering?
I do believe that there are two other connected pieces we need to mull over. One includes where athletes (and parents for that matter) place the importance for sports participation. I have discussed on many occasions the significance of keeping intrinsic reasons for sports participation at the core or center of why kids and teens participate in competitive athletics rather than the extrinsic purposes that we hear about so often today (scholarships, winning, fame, fortune, etc.). That is not to say athletes shouldn’t set goals that include winning or getting a scholarship, just that these goals need to be kept in the right perspective – as an outcome of the intrinsic reasons for why athletes play. The second consideration is closely tied to the first, that it is the actual perspective/viewpoint that the athlete takes about their participation that can make all the difference.
I think that these two factors play a far more important role than many are willing to admit. I cannot speak for Jim, my baseball player friend, but I know I trained 5 to 6 hours a day, 6 days a week for many years and simply do not view this effort as what I hear many say today about their own athletic participation (or their kids’ participation, if coming from their parents), that it is like a “job.” It is not that I never thought (while going through the experience myself) about how much time I was putting in and that I might enjoy doing other things, that I had had enough and accomplished enough, that I was ready to move on to the next stage in my life, etc. I most certainly did have several moments throughout my athletic career where my thought process moved down this path. I can even remember very specific instances, on more than one occasion, that these thoughts dominated my thinking. I think every dedicated athlete goes through this questioning of themselves as to why and whether it is all worth it. This is normal. However, I think the difference (getting back to the reason why my and my friend Jim’s perspective is so different than many of our youth) centers on how we answered this question. We both tended to focus on intrinsic reasons for our participation allowing us to take a completely different perspective than the “burn-out” syndrome so commonly referenced today.
****Part II: It’s All In Your Point of View and 4 components that help in developing a more positive perspective coming next week****