Unpopular Opinion Coming Through

Over my lunch hour, today, I got caught at the chatty table. I’m not exactly sure how that happened. Poetic justice, really. I sat down at the empty table, and wouldn’t you know it? Ten minutes later, it was the social event of the season. Women talking about their sons and grandsons, and the wonderful world of high-school wrestling. I know next to nothing about wrestling, and I have no sons or grandsons, so you can imagine my role in the conversation. Mostly smiling and nodding, while I wonder if it’s okay to get out my earphones, yet.

So, the coach has announced that he will be very carefully monitoring the boys’ weights to be sure that no one is doing unhealthy things to get the weight class of their choice.

Yup. It was a conversation about eating disorders, but no one actually said “eating disorder.” Not even the woman who was describing her kid, who was compulsively chewing gum in order to soak up moisture from his body. (I’m not sure I totally got the process, but that’s the theory.)

You have to imagine a weird mix of pride and concern. Here and there, a mother setting her foot down, that her son is NOT going to endanger his future health so he can wrestle for a couple of years. Less clear about how, exactly, she intends to stop it.

Damn it, no! You cannot have a puppy eating disorder.

It’s weird how deep and dark and deadly serious high school sports are. And if you think they’re just a game… well, you’re either an optimist or completely out of touch.

The first time I remember anyone talking about this was several years after my older cousin stopped (football, wrestling, etc.) He’d played in high school. And college. And for what it’s worth, I thought he was pretty good. (what I could see from over the edge of my book, anyway.) I thought of him as athletic. Fit. Healthy.

And then, all of a sudden, people were talking about how much better he looked, now that he wasn’t trying to maintain his weight class… How much weight he’d lost. And they were right, of course. I’d just never thought of him as anything other than a “big” guy.  I was surprised by the comment, and more surprised to realize… well, wow… sports probably weren’t all that good for him.

Kids push themselves hard. Not just boys.

And they don’t always have a clear idea of whether they have an actual chance of being a pro football player or a prima ballerina.

The cost-benefit assessment is more an adult’s job.

The idea of a coach lecturing an entire team on “eat right or else?” I hope he was talking to one specific kid, but I don’t believe it. And honestly, I think a more recreational approach to high school sports might be wise.


    • Reply

      Far too often, although I can think of a lot of doctors and lawyers who are doing the same thing. I wish I knew at exactly what age kids outgrow the parent’s expectations and develop their own. I’m pretty sure it was entirely accidental in my case.

  1. Reply

    This is an interesting and important topic that I, and I assume others, was ignorant of – how sports in schools is shaping our children. It sounds like you’re in America. In UK schools we don’t have the same attitude to sports, but it doesn’t mean team players aren’t under similar instruction!
    Thanks for highlighting the issue.

    • Reply

      I think the attitude would be improved, if professional recruitment were not tied to school sports here. I really can’t think of any other war we spend Ed money that results in such a small return on investment. I actually know more local people who died playing sports than ever got paid for it.

  2. Reply

    I worked at a boys’ school and watched the kids trying to “make weight,” but I was even more horrified by the one wrestling match I watched. The parents were screaming and one father lay down next to the mat and was yelling like crazy.

    My own kid fenced, but also rowed and played rugby; the rugby worried me the most because of concussions, but there was no telling her what she could and couldn’t do by the time she was in high school.

    • Reply

      At least with something like rugby, you can be fairly sure the kid’s playing because they want to and not because it’s expected! The opportunity to leave without much fuss was there.

  3. Reply

    This is a good topic. I think we’ve long surpassed the “recreational approach” to high school sports. And it’ll take a couple of huge cultural shifts to get us there.

    • Reply

      I’m so incredibly relieved to see some of the pros talking about traumatic brain injury. It does something to have the message coming from people who played and loved the sport.

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