Most teenagers have experienced being a part of a team and playing a sport. Sports give individuals a purpose and a sense of belonging, but this is not the case for all athletes. Oftentimes, sports bring such trauma to one’s life that they end up quitting the sport they have done since they were little. Staying in a sport for an extended period of time when an individual isn’t enjoying it puts damaging pressure on the athlete. Branching away from a once-beloved sport is normal, and trying something new can have significantly better benefits and outcomes in the future.
Sticking with a sport for a long time isn’t always a good thing. While some athletes may love it, others don’t. I was a gymnast for eight years, and for the first half, I really enjoyed it. However, once I started taking it more seriously, things started going downhill. I never wanted to go to practice, and competitions were always super stressful. I felt trapped. However, I stuck with it because gymnastics was my life, and I didn’t think I could have a life without it. Being put in a sport early on and staying with it can make athletes feel pressured when thinking about quitting. It is all we have ever known and the sport has become a routine for many. Without a certain sport, athletes may not know how to continue their lives without it, no matter how mentally or physically abusive the sport was. Because of this, athletes may not leave their sport and they might not get the chance to branch out and explore other options that could have better benefits for their mental and physical health.
“I was hesitating a lot [to quit gymnastics] because I have been in the sport since I was five years old and I was worried I was going to miss it after, but it ended up being completely fine,” sophomore Elizabeth Dowdy said. “Right now, I am doing multiple sports and I enjoy it more and it’s a lot less stressful.”
Athletes may also feel like they have to stay in a particular sport because they think they have no other option. When athletes first think of quitting, they are most likely pretty hesitant. They may not believe they have other choices outside of the sport they are doing. Athletes may not believe they are fit for any other sport or may not think it is worth it to switch, especially when in high school. I quit gymnastics the summer before my junior year, but I was afraid I made the wrong decision knowing I only had two years left before college. I didn’t think I could pick up another sport and get good at it in that short amount of time. Despite this, I quit the sport that I had done all my life, and I am perfectly fine. I picked up a new sport for pure pleasure and now I am much happier with my life. While athletes may be unsure about trying a new sport, and leaving their current one, how we live our life is up to us. Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing; in fact, sometimes it is just what we need to grow as an athlete and as an individual.
Occasionally, athletes are pressured into staying in a sport by their parents or coaches. When an athlete is thinking about quitting, it is normal for a coach or parent to be worried about them and that they may be making the wrong decision. Yet, in some situations, it’s possible that the parents are the ones that care more, especially when it comes to playing in college or going pro. Not all athletes dream of playing a sport in college, but parents aren’t always aware of this. As a result, athletes may not feel comfortable telling an adult they want to quit because of the backlash. They could also be scared of being told that they cannot quit. Whatever reason it may be, there are numerous reasons why athletes feel pressured into staying in a sport and adults might be one of them.
Sticking with a sport that an athlete is particularly good at can be truly rewarding. Many athletes put their all into a sport, with the hope of continuing it in college and making a career out of it. Although this is the dream for some, it is not for all, and athletes should not be pressured or forced to stick with the same sport throughout their life if they wish not to. In my case, college gymnastics was never in the picture, and I didn’t see the point of being in an environment where I didn’t feel like I belonged. I made the change, and it completely transformed my mental health and how I lived. Life is about trying new things and switching things up to see what works best. Athletes should be inspired and encouraged to try all different types of sports and should not be limited to just one.
Pressuring athletes to stay in a sport long-term, even if they wish not to, destroys their mental health and sets them up for failure. Humans are meant to experience change and grow as individuals. Branching out from a sport has its challenges, but overall, it can be much more freeing and liberating than staying in a sport that you don’t love.