As the winter sports season arrives, high school athletic tryouts are going on, which means many teenagers are stressing about the competitive world of sports. Sports can be a wonderful thing and they can teach us a never ending list of valuable lessons, from dealing with failure to handling the pressures of competition. The teams formed through sports can create friendship bonds that last a lifetime. Pasta parties, car rides, inside jokes, and team bonding can be wonderful things all orchestrated through the common ground of a sports team. Nevertheless, there are also numerous downfalls that come with sports.
Stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and an unhealthy state of mind can be outcomes of the toxicity of competitive sports. Sports can become too much to handle when you also have to deal with the pressures of school classes, SATs, college applications, and other school related stressors.
Family life is also a deciding factor in whether the sport you’re playing is the right fit for you. Some parents use sports as a way to live out their lives through their children. If this is the case, you must remember that you are not your parent. You are your own individual and you do not have to pursue the same athletic aspirations that your parent has always dreamed of embarking on themselves. You don’t owe anyone anything and you aren’t letting anyone down or “wasting your potential” if you choose mental health over a lost passion. Whatever your situation may be, a toxic lifestyle is not an ideal one, and you must remember that your mental health is an important part of life that is often overlooked.
Many sports, when they reach a certain level of skill and competition, can become overwhelmingly more stressful and anxiety-inducing. There are also a variety of sports, such as gymnastics, track, swimming, and skiing, where your individual performance is marked by a number, whether it be a score or a time. It’s as if your entire talent is defined by this one number. This mindset is toxic and leads to an environment where competition is valued above all, and the individual is fueled by judgement. In a society where we are constantly reminded of the prejudice that exists in the world, we do not need another outlet of judgement in our lives.
Whether we joined sports because we had a natural talent, wanted to try something new, or our parents enrolled us at a young age, we may not be the same person we were when we first started. Things change along the way, you change along the way, and maybe now the inhibitor of your passion is now the inhibitor of your anxiety. Sports are supposed to make you feel better on a bad day, not make you feel infinitely worse on a seemingly good day. Ultimately, you need to weigh the benefits over the setbacks of staying in a toxic sport. If quitting is what it takes to maintain your mental health, then that is perfectly okay.