Winning. Losing. Living.
Written by David Whitelock, Head Athletic Trainer at ThunderRidge High School
As I am walking into Shea Stadium for the first football game of the school year, I am full of excitement and energy. I love walking through the gates loaded down with all of my gear: portable table, crutches, vacuum splints, ice coolers and of course, my travel kit loaded with a little bit of everything from the Athletic Training Room in preparation for anything. I love hearing the warm-up music and being in the locker room with the athletes as they get prepared for their contest. I love seeing the Rocky Mountains from the field and the sun slowly lowering, signaling the start of the game. My mind begins to wander. I remember being an athlete in high school and the excitement and adrenaline that I experienced before every race I ran or event that I competed in. I was focused on trying to get a faster time, a further distance or a better score and anything less was a disappointment for me. I begin to think about when my two sons were competing in club and high school soccer, baseball, lacrosse and wrestling. I remember feeling very proud of them participating and challenging themselves to become better in their sport.
Even with all of the great lessons and experiences that come with participating in athletics and parents encouraging their children to compete, all too often this excitement, encouragement and pride turns into stress, frustration, and disappointment. As an Athletic Trainer for nearly 2 decades at ThunderRidge High School, I have developed a sideline perspective on sports and believe that sometimes, it is valuable to step back and re-assess the reason for participating in athletics.
As parents, it is sometimes difficult to balance the amount of involvement we have in our children’s activities. We want the best for them. We want them to be successful. We want them to know we support them unconditionally. I encourage all parents to keep the following in mind:
● More FUN, less pressure. Verbal encouragement and your presence at a game/contest communicates to your athlete that you care about them as a person rather than the outcome of the event.
● Diversity provides opportunity. Encourage your athlete to try new activities. This could be a new position for their sport, a different training regimen, or participation in multiple sports. This will provide your athlete an opportunity to change their focus and prevent burnout. This change in activity and skill acquisition also allows your athlete to develop different skills which will, in turn, make them a stronger player in any sport, as well as greatly reduce risk of overuse injuries. Most importantly, diversity will develop a love for sport and competition.
● Celebrate effort and competition more than winning. This mindset, as a parent, will help keep us focused on the reason we chose to have our children participate in sport in the first place. Competition teaches life lessons more than winning does. Competition teaches problem solving, teamwork, honor, respect, humility, and how hard work pays off.
As an athlete, it is understandable that winning is the goal during competition. Remember, there will always be mistakes made on the field, court, or mat. Being able to recognize them, learn from them, and quickly correct them will make a better athlete in any setting.
● Have fun. Why participate if you are not having fun? Forcing yourself to participate in something that is boring, dreadful, irritating or stressful will cause an unhealthy environment for you. This can lead to mental and physical stress, poor academic performance, mental fatigue and injury. Remember that ‘fun’ isn’t always easy but it should always be enjoyed.
● Stay healthy… physically and mentally. Being an athlete in any sport requires discipline. You must maintain balance between sport and life. School work needs to be maintained in a timely fashion so that you remain eligible for participation. Social events must also be maintained so that you do not feel isolated from your friends. Relax. Take time to focus on you as a person. Listen to music, draw, sing, dance, maybe even sleep. Adults/professionals sometimes take “Mental Health Days” to recharge and rejuvenate themselves, and so should you.
● Athletics teach life lessons… embrace them. You have heard it before that being an athlete teaches you teamwork, problem solving, cooperation, etc. The list goes on and on. But, I challenge you to think about what you are really learning by being an athlete. You are learning that in life, we are surrounded by struggles, failure, disappointment and loss, as well as, success, achievement, and celebration. How are you going to deal with all of these once you are off of the field, court, or mat? Being an athlete does not define you. It refines you. The skills that you have learned, are learning, and will continue to learn, are important ingredients in making you a whole person.
Athletics and competition are amazing experiences. However, according to a CBS News report, only 3.1% of senior high school athletes continue playing in the college or university setting. With this small of a percentage, I would ask that everyone involved in athletics keep a healthy perspective on why we are participating or why we want our children to participate. Cole Manhart, ThunderRidge alumni and now football coach, when asked to reflect on what he learned from his football experiences from high school into the NFL said, “ …football wasn’t who I was. I understood that it was a venue through which I could show my dedication, my discipline, my work ethic, and my ability to be a good teammate. The lessons I had learned playing the game had been priceless, but take away athletics and I was still every bit of the same man that I had been when I put on the pads.” Cole continues by saying, “If you were stripped of your ability, would you still be the same person who would attack all areas of your life with the same tenacity that you approach your sport? One day it will end, for some of you that’s four years, for some four months, and like me it maybe some unforeseen random day. I challenge you to ask yourself if you are prepared for life after sports, have you identified the principles by which you will live your life?”
Whether we are on the playing field or sitting in the stands, I encourage everyone to enjoy competition. Participating in athletics is an excellent opportunity to learn, have fun, struggle and grow into responsible members of our community. As we embrace the total experiences of winning and losing, we will end up living a wonderful life.