This From the Sidelines column appeared in the September 5, 2018 print edition of the News Journal…
While at a cross country meet over the weekend I caught part of a conversation between two coaches about what one was calling “the complete high school experience.”
This coach was talking about how vital it is for teens, and their parents, to understand the importance of getting as much as they possibly can from their four years in high school. I couldn’t agree with this more, as I have often found myself wishing over the years that I could somehow go back and do things differently between the ages of 15-18.
The idea here is that you only have a very limited amount of time to be a high schooler. Life changes pretty drastically once you move on to the college or professional world, and suddenly you find that your options begin to get more and more limited.
While still in high school, however, you have the chance to try many different things. Sports specialization is an ever-growing concern among a large number of folks in the athletic community, and there have been no shortage of opinion pieces written on the topic over the past several years. Basically, it is just how it sounds – a young athlete will choose, and in some cases even be encouraged, to specialize in one sport year-round, as opposed to participating in two, three or maybe even more activities during their high school career.
Now, I believe there are rare instances where an athlete has a legitimate shot at really making an impact in a particular sport at the collegiate, or maybe even the professional level. In those cases, I suppose specializing is understandable to a certain extent. The vast majority of high school athletes will probably not advance on to the next level, though. If they do, playing time will become increasingly harder to obtain. And even if they are lucky enough to get a substantial amount of time on the field/court/track, the likelihood of them going pro is infinitesimal.
I do not say all of this to discourage any student’s dream of competing in college, or even professionally. Rather, I simply want to point out the fact that most will move on from high school and find themselves doing something other than organized athletics. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just the way it is for the overwhelming majority of us.
Only when we truly realize this can we begin to fully understand and appreciate just how important it is to experience everything you want to experience before you receive your high school diploma. Being a good student comes first, but past that… play football if you want. Run track. Bowl. Fish. Join clubs. Do whatever you like, within reason of course.
And don’t worry about being the best at whatever it is you’re doing. Chances are you will always find yourself in the position of not being as good as someone else, while at the same time being better than many others. That is another universal truth about life – you win some, you lose some. It’s not always going to be good, just like it’s not always going to be bad. Simply focus on being the best that YOU can be, and have as much fun as you can along the way.
Speaking from personal experience, I worried a lot about not getting a ton of playing time as a member of my high school football team many years ago, but that is not what I think about today at all. No, when I think back on those times now, as an adult, I mostly just remember the laughs that I shared with my friends on the team. I also feel a lot of pride, not because I scored a bunch of touchdowns, or led the team in tackles, but because I never quit, even though many times I wanted to.
If I could go back and say something to my younger self it would probably be, “Just worry about having fun. You only rob yourself of joy when you try to compare your contributions to others on the team. You’re only here for a short time, so just play to the best of YOUR ability, and let the rest go.”
I would probably also tell myself to “try something new,” because I never really allowed myself to branch out to any other activities. I gave track and field a try my senior year, but I gave up on it after only a couple of weeks of practice because I was finding it extremely difficult to get up to speed with the other kids that had been doing it for several years.
I now wish that I gone out for track and field much earlier on, or that I had at least stuck with it that one year. Covering those events has been a lot of fun for me as a sports reporter, and it’s just too bad that I never gave myself the opportunity to be a part of an actual meet. I think it is something that I would have enjoyed, and could have been another avenue for me to form meaningful relationships with some different people.
The point is this – if you are in high school, don’t cheat yourself out of what could be a great experience that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. Try lots of different things. If you find that something truly is not for you, that’s fine. Do your best to finish your current commitments, and then move on to something else that you will hopefully like better. You have that option, but if you wait too long, you’ll miss your opportunity.