Sport: a reliever or enhancer of pressure on young people? (1.0)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved cricket. Most of my childhood was spent either playing, talking about, or thinking about cricket. It has allowed me to experience a great deal of happiness, as well as a fair amount of success. Like many young people, I dreamt of being a professional cricketer, and was fortunate enough to make it onto an elite pathway. However, I decided to stop pursuing my dream, because I fell out of love with the game.

Having had a few years to reflect on my cricketing journey, and now being in a position where I’m enjoying the game once again, I’d like to share my thoughts about the pressures within sport. I shall, at some point in this three-part series, shed light on my own experiences, but firstly I’d like to speak generally about sport and its pressures.

For people around the globe, sport is a source of enjoyment. The psychological buzz one gets from playing sport is unlike any other feeling. In my experience, it is a feeling of pure elation. It seems clear, then, that parents would encourage their children to play sports, so that they can have fun with friends whilst maintaining their health and general wellbeing.

shallow focus photography of red cricket ball

Alessandro Bogliari, Unsplash

According to a report from Ohio University, children who engage in sporting activities reduce their stress levels in both the short and long term. However, this does not mean that young athletes do not experience stress. In fact, it seems likely that all athletes will experience some amount of pressure during their careers, which will ultimately lead them to feel stressed. This sporting pressure can make itself apparent in many forms.

One example of this is the pressure of expectation. Many parents, coaches, and friends will have high expectations of their athletic counterparts which, in turn, makes an athlete feel as if they have to perform. When this type of pressure is created, any amount of failure can lead an athlete to feel like a disappointment. The report from Ohio University indicates this, since approximately 30% of those who quit a school sport said it was the result of “negative actions of parents and/or coaches”. Put simply, external expectation can create such a large amount of pressure, to the extent where it is too much for people to handle.

painting of man

Aaron Blanco Tejedor, Unsplash

Moreover, sportspeople will experience pressure when trying to balance their sporting activities alongside their general lives. For students, for example, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain good grades whilst trying to pursue a sporting career. When you are trying to balance things, it can often lead you to burn out. Perhaps this is one of the factors that leads many young athletes to quit when they’re 16-18, and a reason for 30-35% of adolescent athletes feeling as if they are overreaching. This pressure can also translate to adults, since it can be extremely tricky to pursue a sporting career as your level of independence increases.

A third source of pressure is yourself. I touched on it briefly when alluding to the possibility of feeling like a disappointment, but that still had to do with external sources. In my opinion, as an athlete, you can often be your harshest critic (independent of external expectation). You want nothing but success, so anything other than that makes you question your ability, your technique, and even your self-worth. You often put pressure on yourself to perform, which leads you to feel anxious before, after, and sometimes during an event. Your mindset has an enormous impact on your daily life, and this becomes all the more apparent when you’re playing sport. A mindset that is prone to inducing pressure, and that is incapable of dealing with said pressure, has the potential to break a person, especially in a sporting environment.

people watching game of cricket during sunset

Marcus Wallis, Unsplash

These are just a few of the pressures that I would associate with sport. Throughout my time, I have had to deal with a fair amount of pressure, some of which was the result of the aforementioned sources. 

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