Sports, Amateurs, and Nature

I firmly believe the expression, “Everything happens for a reason.” Sometimes it’s a disappointing exam score, sometimes it’s meeting someone who becomes a great friend, sometimes it’s an injury, and sometimes it’s finding a $5 bill on the ground. And, sometimes it’s the worst thing ever…cracking your brand new iPhone 6. Good or bad, I believe there’s a reason everything happens, and there’s a lesson to be learned from each occurrence as well. As a youth in a complex society, letting things happen as they will requires me to be prepared for the day, but to live life in the most natural state as possible; letting things take their course and going with the flow. I try to learn from my elders, but I have to be independent so I can learn about myself, figure out my own interests and hobbies, and know what I want to do. Eric Dunning, in his essay “The Dynamics of Modern Sport” (in the anthology Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilizing Process, Blackwell, 1986), discusses the termamateur ethos” – the idea that sports at the amateur level should be played strictly for pleasure instead of worrying about winning. Competition is so prevalent in modern day professional sports that the simplicity of amateurs, playing for pleasure, is a concept that no longer exists. Even worse, the physiques of young athletes are no longer able to develop naturally.

The most obvious example in sports in regards to changing the body operates through the use of steroids, which “are controlled substances that people abuse in high doses to boost their athletic performance.” A common misconception is that steroids are used to improve skill, but, in reality, their purpose is to “help build muscle tissue and increase body mass.” Across all sports, steroids are used by many athletes to “win at any cost,” which is the opposite of the amateur ethos concept. Steroids create an unfair advantage between those who use them and those who don’t and have been banned in many professional sports. So, many factors change when steroids are involved. Pills and needles have become as popular for gaining strength to hit the ball hard in baseball as going to the gym or practicing in a batting cage.

Nature is not fair, to be honest. I’m a 5’5” male, a height that is rather small to be a true competitor in most sports. Yet, I always wanted to believe I would be a professional athlete the same way I believe everyone has a place in this world. It’s up to us to figure it out. Honestly, hearing about this increased use of steroids makes it less enjoyable for me as a viewer and more understandable that I will not become a professional athlete. Worst of all, using performance enhancing drugs is a bad influence upon our youth and amateur athletes because it creates this mindset that they also have to use steroids in order to be as skilled as their sport idol. If they don’t, they have fewer possible places in the world.

Going straight to professional leagues out of high school is another inhibitor of development because education is one of the most important tools necessary for success in modern society. Before eligibility rule changes in some sports, athletes could be drafted to a professional sports team after graduating high school, causing them to miss out entirely on a college education. One of the biggest recent changes involves the eligibility rule in the NBA, where a player must be 19 years old to participate. In response, Brandan Wright, a professional basketball player, said how the new eligibility rule, “might hurt guys who need money, but it will help people grow and develop.” I agree with Wrights’ stance on the issue based on changes I see in myself in only two months at Michigan. The new rule, requiring athletes to attend at least one year of college before going pro, may also encourage athletes to return to college to complete their four years soon after finishing their sports career. After playing football at USC, Troy Polamalu was drafted to the Steelers in 2003, but hadn’t earned his degree. During the NFL lockout, he went back to do just that. la_polamalu1x_300Polamalu says, “I truly love football and it’s such an immense blessing and privilege as an athlete to be given the rare opportunity to use those talents at the highest professional level, but it’s certainly not a replacement for an education.” I ultimately believe that our amateur athletes must have the opportunity to experience a college education and explore their life options to know their true place in the world.

As children we often look up to our parents because we trust them. Unfortunately, many parents start training their children to become professional athletes at very young ages. Being swayed to focus upon one life path without exploring other options because our parents decide for us isn’t healthy. In order to be successful we must be independent thinkers. That is how, and why, I am here at the University of Michigan. This notion of forcing ideals upon our youth was not practiced in my family, and yet there are many families with parents who tell their children who they need to become. There are also many families in which parents push their young children to their physical limits too soon. Friday Night Tykes is a TV show that follows the lives of eight and nine year old football players that play with, for the most part, the same rules, regulations and intensity as professionals – yes, this includes tackling and screaming coaches that don’t have a filter on their words. See for yourself an episode from Esquire Network.

These children haven’t been given the freedom to try out different sports, hobbies, or develop other interests. They’ve been trained to believe that football is the utmost priority and outweighs all else. Therefore, playing football has a seriousness to it that isn’t necessary at such a young age; it should be played for fun. Our amateur athletes and youth need to be able to have the freedom to explore athletic and non-athletic options for their personal development. Many high schools, like mine, now offer broad liberal arts curriculums to give students a wide range of knowledge and experiences across multiple subjects. Young athletes like these must be able to explore different sports to find their places in the sport that is right for them. 

Developing the mind and body naturally is the key ingredient to having a healthy and successful life. Pushing bodies to their limits before they fully develop, during the amateur years, or using steroids at any level of play, is wrong. Looking back at my opening statement, what I really mean is that I believe that “Everything done naturally happens for a reason.” If we can let our amateur athletes and youth develop themselves and find their places in this world naturally, then life will take its course for that individual as it is meant to. Each and every one of us must be able to find out for ourselves what we are best at without altering any part of human nature.

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3 comments

  1. lauraucros · October 13, 2014

    Going off on jbaren’s description of steroids, I would want to expand a little bit more on the matter. Doping has been part of sports for centuries (it has been proven the Greeks used substances to improve their performance); but in the last few years the frequency of this activity has been raising quickly. It is dangerous for the athletes who engage in it because it hurts their body, for the children who look up to this athletes because essentially they are cheating in order to win so they are giving the wrong message to the youth, and to the sport itself because no longer the most trained/virtuous/skilled person wins but rather the one that has the means and the disposition to use performance enhancing drugs.

    Doping can also be very expensive, so again this will hurt the essence of sports because if all athletes start using this steroids, then the ones who can afford the better drugs are the ones who are going to end up winning. Performance enhancing drugs are an advantage that don’t bring any reasonable benefits compared to all the damage they cause to the athletes and the nature of sports.

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  2. prvalera · October 13, 2014

    I really like this post and I agree with your view on “going with the flow”. Instead of rushing through life and trying to get everything done, we should be slowing down and enjoying the little things. Trying to be the best at everything will only wear you out and you will miss out on really living life to the fullest.
    Also your point about young children being trained to be professional athletes, especially the Friday Night Tykes example, was alarming. Children should not be exposed to that type of intensity. They should be allowed to explore their different interests and find an activity that they are good at and thoroughly enjoy participating in. Parents need to loosen up the reins and let children be children, not mini-adults. Trying different sports and activities lets children interact with different types of people allowing them to learn and grow as people. If children are forced to stay on one path the entire time, they will never experience different things and will grow up with the mentality that football, or whatever other sport is played, is the most important thing in the world. They will not experience “play” for what it is, and will always associate sports with “training” and “work out” rather than “fun” and “leisure”.
    Everyone has their own niche, they should not be forced into somewhere they do not fit.

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  3. abklee · October 15, 2014

    I, also, really like this post and your stance on “everything done naturally happens for a reason.” There is so much pressure for young athletes today, that all the fun is being taken out of games that were originally played for just that- fun. The Friday Night Tykes episode, while I only watched a few minutes, was eye opening. It was way too intense for such a young age and is detrimental to the idea of amateurism in our country. Children should play sports to have fun, to learn teamwork and discipline, to make friends, or to stay in shape; not to be trained and morphed into professional athletes.

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