We always hear about the many advantages of playing sports and how it is healthy for us. There are many benefits to playing sports, perhaps none more so than improving your fitness and health. Everybody is always talking about how playing sports is healthy for you, and it will not only improve your general health and wellbeing but also improve your stamina, strengthen your bones, reduce body.1,2 Many other associated benefits are often credited to playing sports. However, with the growing focus on sports and health, it is essential to ask whether sports are really healthy for you? While it is important to stay fit but is sports the only way to achieve fitness? Let’s take a closer look at some of the valid points that there are many downsides to playing sports as well.
Can Only Playing Sports Make You Fit And Healthy?
There is no doubt that sports is an excellent way of keeping fit and healthy. However, playing sports is not the only way of staying healthy and fit. Eating well is another big part of how you can remain fit and healthy. Many people also prefer to exercise in other ways rather than playing sports, such as going to the gym, dancing, jogging, walking, or gardening.3,4 Walking is known to have several benefits for your health, and regular walking can prevent the development of many lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and others.5
The fact is that playing sports can prove to be dangerous.6,7 Millions of people worldwide get hurt playing sports every year, some of which end up being very serious. Even professional athletes spend a lot of their time recovering from injury.8,9 If you are playing contact sports, such as boxing, hockey, football, or rugby, the chances of being hurt by another player is very high. Sometimes, these injuries can prove to be very serious, causing life-threatening complications.10,11 Other injuries can also occur due to players pushing their bodies for too long or too hard during competitions or training.
Many times, an injury just does not go away and keeps recurring, increasing the complications and need for expensive health treatments. At the same time, as you grow older, it becomes more challenging to recover from such sports-related injuries.12 The recovery time also becomes more prolonged, and even if you don’t get injured, you will find yourself suffering from various aches and pains after playing that may last for several days to even months at a time.13,14
Injuries don’t just affect professional athletes. According to a report by Safe Kids Worldwide, sports injuries accounted for nearly 1.24 million emergency room visits in kids younger than 19 years in 2013 alone.15 This number is only expected to have gone up exponentially since then due to the rise in competitive sports being played by younger kids.
According to a survey carried out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, when such injuries occur, 54 percent of athletes continue to play. Out of this group of kids, nearly 70 percent said they informed a parent or their coach about the injury, but were not prevented from playing even after being injured. Injuries are more likely to occur in sports specialization, overtraining, and inadequate rest.16
According to the American Orthopedic Society of Sports Medicine, it is recommended that children take at least one season off from continuous participation in specific sports every year to give their muscles and bones the rest they require and to provide the chance for using different muscle groups as well.17
Sports Can Teach Us Many Big Lessons In Life, But What About Those Who Are Not Good At Sports?
We all know that sports teach us several big lessons in life. Many sports involve teamwork and also teach us how to get along with others, how to trust your teammates, how to deal with failure and success, and about responsibility. Sports can also help people cope better with pressure.
However, it is not always necessary that sports teach children and young adults good lessons, especially if they are not good at sports.
Many children and young adults are not naturally talented when it comes to playing sports, and may feel like they are making a fool of themselves on the field. This hurts their self-respect and confidence and is likely to put them off from doing any sort of exercise later in life.
There is also the possibility of getting bullied in team sports for not being a great performer. Adolescents who are LGBTQ are at a high risk of getting bullied in sports. Homophobia is a big problem in many team sports, especially in boys. In girls, victimization based on looks and body development is another big issue in sports today.18,19
Apart from playing sports, there are many activities that can teach teamwork and other necessary life skills, such as hiking, camping, raising money for charity, playing in a band, etc.
Competition In Sports Can Also Bring Out The Worst In People
Many people give the reasoning that sports are competitive, and so is life. After all, there is a competitive spirit in all of us, and there is nothing wrong with working hard to achieve certain aims. Neither is there anything wrong with wanting to compete with others and wanting to do better than them. Sport teaches you to compete fairly, within the rules.
However, while playing sports make people competitive, it can also bring out the worst side of human nature. After all, today, sport is not exactly as fair as it used to be earlier. The urge to compete has caused many people to go to all lengths to gain an unfair advantage to win. Even in amateur sports, one sees a lot of cheating, lack of respect for referees, and drug problems. Steroid use has become widespread in many sports today, including in the Olympics as well.20,21
All these problems are further aggravated in professional sports where they need to win and make money goes up substantially. The use of performance-enhancing drugs has become commonplace in many professional sports. Too much competition can also be bad for you, and it can ultimately cause immense stress, and depression can set in as a result of so much pressure.22
Competition can adversely affect the performance of children in school. Those children who are successful in playing sports may become obsessed with getting better and moving ahead, which may cause their schoolwork to suffer. Such children are also likely to experience immense pressure to play well and win. Those who get overmatched due to their physical built may find that competitive sports are no longer fun for them and may end up getting bullied and teased by their teammates and peers.
The other side of this is that a parent may also be putting too much pressure on a child’s performance. Add to this the expectations of a coach. If a coach yells too much at the players or treats the players poorly can impact a child, putting them off competitive sports forever. A child may also fall physically ill before a competition or start losing all interest in a sport they earlier loved if such a stressful and negative environment is created. Once a child goes through a negative experience, he/she may have trouble dealing with any kind of stressful situation throughout their life. Too much stress and feeling of being unable to meet their parents’ or coach’s expectations can also impact a child’s mental well-being, causing anxiety and depression.23,24
Dangers Of Specializing In One Sport
Specialization in one sport may prove to be dangerous for children. Many child athletes are focused on only one sport due to coach and parental pressure. This specialization in one sport typically involves year-round training and competing at various levels – the pressure on the child increases slowly from competing at the school level to moving to more elite national or international level.16
Parents are also more prone to engage in putting excessive pressure on the child for that one sport and increase their training to improve the child’s performance. Many times, even though the child is tired and has schoolwork, they are forced to go to practice at the cost of their health and schoolwork.
Physical injuries are another concern with sports specialization. Still, another issue is that a child who only focuses on one sport could end up missing the benefits of other activities as they are not participating in any other sports. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions parents against falling into the trap of one sport specialization.25 Participating in a variety of sports helps expand a child’s skills, allows greater mobility and movement, enhances positive attitudes, and also increases the child’s happiness and enjoyment.
Concerns Over Burnout
Overtraining may put a lot of strain on a youngster’s body physically. However, overtraining also has an emotional toll, especially on younger children who are playing competitive sports. Kids are more likely to feel overwhelmed with the high amount of activity, which can be more than what they can handle. This can cause them to become burned out. You may start noticing physical symptoms of anxiety, such as stomach aches and headaches. You may also find that your child starts having trouble coping with the demands of the sport. Kids are more likely to become depressed, restless, and agitated if sports burnout occurs. The child’s grades may also suffer, and may start acting out if you do not reduce the pressure to perform in sports.
Exploitation in Sports
The Bleacher Report sheds light on the rampant exploitation going on in sports, especially with children.26 The report states that coaches and parents exploit and even abuse child athletes. 26 An example mentioned in the report shows how a mixed martial arts tournament had a 13-year-old boy pitted against a 20-year-old opponent twice his size and age.
Otherwise also, gymnasts as young as ten years old are today being forced to practice for over eight to ten hours per day continuously. Nearly 60 percent of all Olympic-hopeful gymnasts are suffering from various types of eating disorders.27 Grueling practice sessions and continuous conditioning end up taking a harsh physical toll on the developing bodies of these youth athletes, the impact of which is felt later on in life.
Bad Role Models
Sports have given us many role models to look up to. Many children try to copy the behavior set by these athletes. However, not all sports stars are good role models. Many stars are frequently in the news for their bad behavior, both on and off the field. This sets a bad example for children. Even those who behave well are not really the best examples for children to follow. This is because many of the top athletes do not need a good education to become top sports stars. Children who find these stars to be heroes could easily start thinking that playing sports is more important than bothering to work hard in school.
The examples set by coaches, older athletes, and even parents mold the thought process of children and gives them an idea about what is considered to be acceptable behavior in society. When they see their sports stars engaging in violent behavior on the field, children are bound to learn that this behavior is not only acceptable but also applauded and encouraged in such cases.
Youth athletes are also exposed to the attitudes and behavior of other players, coaches, and even fans. Verbal abuse is widespread in sports and can prove to be mentally damaging to children. As per statistics, the National Association of Sports Officials receives over 100 complaints of sporting event violence every year, though it is believed that the number of unreported incidents is much higher.28 These complaints involve coaches, parents, other payers, and even fans assaulting umpires, referees, and other game officials or other players.
While playing sports is a great way of staying healthy, there are many disadvantages to playing sports as well. Not only does it put immense pressure on adolescents and children, sports today have become about money and winning at all costs. Injuries, snobbery, hidden expenses, stress, low self-esteem, bullying, sleep issues, and many other negative factors are also associated with playing sports. It is necessary to find a healthy balance between sports, schoolwork, and a child’s physical and mental wellbeing.
- Shuler, F.D., Wingate, M.K., Moore, G.H. and Giangarra, C., 2012. Sports health benefits of vitamin D. Sports health, 4(6), pp.496-501.
- Bendíková, E., 2014. Lifestyle, physical and sports education and health benefits of physical activity. European researcher, (2-2), pp.343-348. Kaplan, R., 1973. Some Psycholog Ical Benefits of Gardening. Environment and behavior, 5(2), pp.145-162.
- Olafsdottir, G., Cloke, P., Schulz, A., Van Dyck, Z., Eysteinsson, T., Thorleifsdottir, B. and Vögele, C., 2020. Health benefits of walking in nature: A randomized controlled study under conditions of real-life stress. Environment and Behavior, 52(3), pp.248-274.
- Jones, T.F. and Eaton, C.B., 1994. Cost-benefit analysis of walking to prevent coronary heart disease. Archives of family medicine, 3(8), pp.703-710.
- Davis, J.M., Kuppermann, N. and Fleisher, G., 1993. Serious sports injuries requiring hospitalization seen in a pediatric emergency department. American Journal of Diseases of Children, 147(9), pp.1001-1004.
- Chalmers, D.J., 2002. Injury prevention in sport: not yet part of the game?. Injury Prevention, 8(suppl 4), pp.iv22-iv25.
- van Mechelen, W., 1997. The severity of sports injuries. Sports medicine, 24(3), pp.176-180.
- Bijur, P.E., Trumble, A., Harel, Y., Overpeck, M.D., Jones, D. and Scheidt, P.C., 1995. Sports and recreation injuries in US children and adolescents. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 149(9), pp.1009-1016.
- Saunders, R.L. and Harbaugh, R.E., 1984. The second impact in catastrophic contact-sports head trauma. Jama, 252(4), pp.538-539.
- Perlmutter, G.S. and Apruzzese, W., 1998. Axillary nerve injuries in contact sports. Sports Medicine, 26(5), pp.351-361.
- Maffulli, N., Longo, U.G., Gougoulias, N., Loppini, M. and Denaro, V., 2010. Long-term health outcomes of youth sports injuries. British journal of sports medicine, 44(1), pp.21-25.
- Dekker, R., Van Der Sluis, C.K., Groothoff, J.W., Eisma, W.H. and Duis, H.T., 2003. Long-term outcome of sports injuries: results after inpatient treatment. Clinical rehabilitation, 17(5), pp.480-487.
- Kallinen, M. and Markku, A., 1995. Aging, physical activity and sports injuries. Sports Medicine, 20(1), pp.41-52.
- Safekids.org. 2020. [online] Available at: <https://www.safekids.org/sites/default/files/documents/ResearchReports/skw_sports_study_2014_8-11-14.pdf> [Accessed 21 September 2020].
- Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness, 2000. Intensive training and sports specialization in young athletes. Pediatrics, 106(1), pp.154-157. DiFiori, J.P., Benjamin, H.J., Brenner, J.S., Gregory, A., Jayanthi, N., Landry, G.L. and Luke, A., 2014. Overuse injuries and burnout in youth sports: a position statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine. British journal of sports medicine, 48(4), pp.287-288.
- Baiocco, R., Pistella, J., Salvati, M., Ioverno, S. and Lucidi, F., 2018. Sports as a risk environment: Homophobia and bullying in a sample of gay and heterosexual men. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health, 22(4), pp.385-411.
- Volk, A.A. and Lagzdins, L., 2009. Bullying and victimization among adolescent girl athletes. Athletic Insight, 11(1), pp.12-25.
- Bowers, L.D., 2002. Abuse of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. Therapeutic drug monitoring, 24(1), pp.178-181.
- Catlin, D.H. and Murray, T.H., 1996. Performance-enhancing drugs, fair competition, and Olympic sport. Jama, 276(3), pp.231-237.
- Nixdorf, I., Frank, R. and Beckmann, J., 2016. Comparison of athletes’ proneness to depressive symptoms in individual and team sports: Research on psychological mediators in junior elite athletes. Frontiers in psychology, 7, p.893.
- Sorkkila, M., Aunola, K. and Ryba, T.V., 2017. A person-oriented approach to sport and school burnout in adolescent student-athletes: The role of individual and parental expectations. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 28, pp.58-67.
- Ommundsen, Y., Roberts, G.C., Lemyre, P.N. and Miller, B.W., 2006. Parental and coach support or pressure on psychosocial outcomes of pediatric athletes in soccer. Clinical journal of sport medicine, 16(6), pp.522-526.
- Callender, S.S., 2010. The early specialization of youth in sports. Athletic Training & Sports Health Care, 2(6), p.255.
- Mayeda, D., 2020. Sporting Violence: The Parents, Coaches, And Child Exploitation. [online] Bleacher Report. Available at: <https://bleacherreport.com/articles/38170-sporting-violence-the-parents-coaches-and-child-exploitation> [Accessed 21 September 2020].
- O’Connor, P.J., Lewis, R.D. and Kirchner, E.M., 1995. Eating disorder symptoms in female college gymnasts. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
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