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The dangers of being a star athlete

Posted June 2

As I stood on the sideline of a recent State Cup soccer game for my oldest son, Anderson, I watched as he stole the ball from his opponent and turned it toward the goal. After successfully dribbling in and out of several players, he was on his way to scoring.

I cheered loud and proud for my boy. My cheers, however, were cut short because suddenly, Anderson was clipped from behind while two other players came at him from either side, causing him to do do a near flip in the air before landing hard on the ground.

I shook my head in both sadness and frustration because while his efforts earned a foul and a free kick, this was one of seemingly countless times he had been double or triple teamed, resulting in an injury. Why? Because he is a standout player on his team who other teams see as a threat.

Sure, this is flattering and very much well-earned on his part, but it has come at a large cost both physically and mentally. The years of dedication to his sport, along with some significant inches grown this year has earned him a top-ranking spot in both his team and club, putting a target on his back each time he plays.

This target is not only seen by his opponent, but by many teammates because he’s the guy to rely on. “Get the ball to Anderson,” I will often hear from the sidelines. And as a parent, this is both flattering and extremely worrisome because I know all too well the pressure he feels to perform perfectly at every single game.

Anderson worries what his coach will think if he has an off game, and about letting the other players down.

Recently, he has expressed a desire not to be the star athlete anymore. At first, I was a little taken aback, and worried if he wanted to step back from soccer, or perhaps not try as hard. But that wasn’t the case at all.

“I want to be pushed without all the pressure,” he said.

Anderson went on to explain that he wanted to play at a higher level where he didn’t stand out so much, and where he could progress as a soccer player on a team of athletes he could rely on. He wanted to be part of a team, and not feel like he was the team.

As I sat and listened to him, I realized the pressure that many of these star athletes feel, and the mental, physical and emotional danger that is often a result. I worried that if he remained in the same situation, he would no longer enjoy the game he loved, or worse, would be unable to continue at all due to constant injuries.

While we are still figuring out what to do or where to go next — whether to stay with his current situation or find one better suited for him — it has been an eye-opening experience. No longer will I look at my son or other star athletes the same, because there are inherent dangers when in that position.

And perhaps, just like my son, they want nothing more than to be part of a team that pushes without all the pressure.

Arianne Brown is a mother of seven young children who loves hearing and sharing stories. For more of her writings, search “A Mother’s Write” on Facebook. She can be contacted at ariannebrown1@gmail.com. Twitter: A_Mothers_Write.

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