We are less than a week into the official high school basketball season, and already my daughter has sustained an injury. When kids play, they get hurt; this is an unfortunate fact of life. But increasingly, when kids play high school sports, the pressure to return to the very playing field where they sustained the injury is enormous.
I'm not pointing fingers; some of this pressure is self-imposed. But, this self-imposed pressure hasn't developed in a vacuum. We live in a culture of year-round sports where kids are sustaining injuries that used to happen only to professional athletes. Less downtime means less sleep, which means greater susceptibility to getting hurt in the first place. Well-meaning coaches who counsel their still skeletally and neurologically immature charges to play harder are often unwittingly setting them up for injuries that may end their sports careers. Add to that the peer pressure that's a standard ingredient in adolescents and the team mentality that leaves players (girls in particular) in fear of letting their friends down and the result is that kids who should be sitting on the sidelines are instead, icing up and going back out. At the risk of of sounding like throwback to the 1960s, I wonder what has happened to the joy of playing a sport. And I wonder why more adults aren't drawing a line.
My daughter's injury was, thankfully, minor, but some of her friends and teammates have not been as lucky. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three other girls we know who have had to take a step back from the game, perhaps permanently. Through some combination of bad luck and playing hard, these girls have sustained injuries at a level that keeps them from playing at all; two of these girls have had multiple concussions, and one has been so impacted by her injuries that her life off the court has been substantially impacted as well. She is fifteen.
I don't mean to be trashing high school sports programs. They offer many benefits and most of the time, I'm both pleased and proud that my daughter is involved in hers.
But it's time for the adults to take a stand. Understand the potential impact of high school sports injuries and be an advocate for our kids. Work with them to help them understand that two days off now may mean two weeks of playing time down the road. Refuse to allow them to be taped up and sent back in, and counterbalance the advice of well-meaning adults who tell them they aren't playing hard enough by helping them to understand that consistently doing their best is playing hard enough.
I love watching my daughter play basketball. But I don't want to lose sight of the big picture. In the not-too-distant future, I will love watching her graduate from high school and then college. I'll go to her wedding and perhaps become a grandmother, and cheer her on from the sidelines for every role she plays in life. And since I'm an adult with much more life experience than she, it's my job to help her understand what she can't see right now: that although "basketball player" is only part of who she is, what happens on that court can have repercussions outside the gym as well.