Stress And School Sports

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Adolescents often experience a high amount of stress as a result of their environment. Homework and peer pressure are just two of the factors that cause stress among children. As a means to help manage youth stress, medical professionals and school faculty have promoted exercise, particularly interscholastic sports to adolescents. The problem is, participation in sports is not necessarily a cure-all. In fact, athletics can be highly stressful for adolescents if they approach it the wrong way. Sports can be both beneficial and disadvantageous.

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Stress and School sports infographic

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What Statistics Show

Teens are exposed to a wide range of stressful situations. About 27 percent of teens reported having experienced tremendous stress during their school year. In the Stress in America survey that came out in 2014, 30 percent of teens said that they felt sad or depressed as a result of stress, while 31 percent felt overwhelmed. About 36 percent of adolescents also reported that they felt tired and 23 percent of participants said they skipped or missed meals due to stress. Of the children who skipped their meals, 39 percent noted that they did so at least once a week.

Of those who participated in the poll, 31 percent said that their experience of stress had risen over the past year, while 34 percent believe that it will increase further within the next 12 months. An NPR poll that surveyed parents showed that 40 percent of the participants reported that their adolescent child had experienced tremendous stress during their school year. The parents reported that the main cause was academics. About 24 percent of parents surveyed reported that homework was the primary cause of stress in their children. Half of the students who participated in the poll supported this, noting that they often spent a minimum of three hours every night to do homework.

In another study, the average level of stress for teenagers during the school year was rated at 5.8 out of 10. Among adults within the same time period, the stress level was 5.1. A study conducted by New York University showed that almost half of the students who participated in the report experienced significant stress on a daily basis.

How Sports Can Help

Exercise has been shown to have positive effects on the body and mind by reducing stress. However, many teenagers do not exercise regularly. In fact, only 20 percent of teens that experience stress state that they exercised just once per week. This is unfortunate because teens that performed regular exercises experienced lower levels of stress. Interestingly, teens that reported being frequently stressed spend about 3.2 hours on online activities per day on average. In comparison, teens that are under less stress spend only about two hours per day online.

A survey was conducted involving 850 students who played sports in high school including basketball, track and field, and soccer to determine how they are affected by stress. The survey had the students complete three assessments to test their mental health. The students also had to note the frequency with which they experienced stress and depression. Research showed that students who were in sports had better mental health than students who were not.

Students have a long tradition of playing in school sports but the benefits may go far beyond developing team spirit, promoting the school and achieving popularity among peers. Children from the age of 12 up to 17 years who participated in sports at school had a lower risk of suffering from poor mental health. Sports may even delay instances of mental health issues from happening for up to four years later.

In another study involving adolescents aged 8 to 12, results showed that children who played sports did not experience as much stress when they became adults compared to those who did not play.

Sports Are Not Perfect

Participating in sports has proven to be beneficial for many people, particularly students who are faced with increasingly stressful situations in their day-to-day lives. However, sports are far from a panacea. Young athletes, with their exposure to sports activities and exercise, are still likely to experience a good amount of stress. In fact, playing itself can cause a great deal of anxiety, worry, and excitement. Baseball players, for example, experience an average heart rate of 170 beats per minute when at-bat.

In one study, 20 percent of soccer players stated that they experience high-stress levels prior to and after a game, particularly if they lose. In another study, it is estimated that about 5 to 10 percent of active players experience tremendous stress.

These figures alone explain why student-athletes are frequently stressed out. Participating in sports is already physically and mentally exhausting. When combined with the pressures of school, homework and social activities, stress is likely to become more difficult to manage.

Managing Stress in Interscholastic Sports

Participating in more than one type of sport is discouraged among student-athletes for a good reason. One study showed that 30 percent to 50 percent of athletes in their adolescent years experience burnout. Burnout, also called overreaching, is fairly common among teen athletes who play two or more sports and it can have a negative impact on other activities. There are also other sobering aspects of burnout among young athletes. Some can experience it when they are as young as 9 or 10 years old.

Sports are far from being a safe activity. Student-athletes are as vulnerable to injuries and pain as casual and professional athletes. In fact, there are 2.6 million cases of visits to emergency hospitals for athletes aged 5 to 24 each year. As if the injuries are not bad enough, young athletes are also relied upon to perform well, sometimes even when they are physically unable. In one study, young players reported that they felt their coaches pressured them to play even while they were injured.

Stress can also come from parents and school coaches. Both groups may expect their young athletes to show a good performance, placing the heavy burden of meeting an authority figure’s expectations on the children. Negative actions such as name-calling, yelling and swearing can also worsen the situation, particularly since these are directed at the young athletes.

Interscholastic sports are a traditional part of American education. However, a reexamination of its effects and the pressure it bears down on adolescents must be considered. Young athletes already go through plenty of stress at school and it is incumbent upon school coaches to ensure that their athletes are not overworked or overstressed.

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