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The Hidden Dangers of Competitive Sports

Are you aware of the dangers of high school athletics?

Are you aware of the dangers of high school athletics?

Sports are a staple of high school extracurricular activities, but are they worth the time commitment and potential dangers of injury?

Writer Jonnie Wall on sports website Sportales breaks down the pros and cons of youth athletics, though most of the arguments on both sides are fairly familiar, especially on the emotional and mental tradeoffs of sports. But the most interesting debate is whether competitive sports can be damaging physically.

Young bodies are still in the growing process. When a child participates in competitive sports the repetitive movement required by many sports can cause long-term injuries. Joints, ligaments and muscles are still growing well into a child’s high school years. Early overuse can cause joint and tendon problems as well as early life arthritis as well as back and neck problems.

I think Wall identifies the real danger of sports on your health — long-term injuries. While we’re most likely to think of sprains and broken bones, teens are able to recover from those well; it’s damages that affect growth which should be of more concern.

We can all agree that sports nurture a positive discipline for exercise, but it’s easy for that regiment to go too far. Personally, I’ve seen competitive sports spur unhealthy habits. In high school, I was on the wrestling team in the winter and rowing team in the spring. Since weight is such an important issue with both of those sports, I was encouraged to watch what I ate very carefully. While my coaches never suggested making unhealthy changes to my diet, there is often an unspoken pressure for young athletes to do so. That’s not to say that wrestling and rowing are bad sports (in fact, I’d argue the opposite), but in a competitive atmosphere, even high school kids can take things too seriously. Eating disorders from sports isn’t all that uncommon.

Though I’ve only discussed the cons of high school athletics, I still think the positives — both physical and mental — outweigh the negatives. But I think both young athletes and their parents should be aware of the dangers, and understand when to realize that they’re taking sports too seriously.