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EDITORIAL: Report should be required reading for high school athletes and their parents

York Dispatch
  • The college recruiting process can be extremely stressful for high school athletes.
  • The pressure of the process can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • There are some strategies that can help to alleviate the emotional strain.
Abdul Janneh Jr., left, and Brayden Long during signing day at New Oxford High School in New Oxford, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. The seniors will be playing football for Duquesne and Slippery Rock Universities, respectively. Dawn J. Sagert photo
Sports psychologist Nicholas Kenien, PhD., is shown in his home office in Spring Garden Township, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. Kenien, of Kenien Counceling, LLC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Nationally Certified School Psychologist. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Competing in high school sports should bring unbridled joy, not unwanted stress.

For many athletic teenagers, however, the prep sports experience can turn into a pressure-packed nightmare during their junior and senior seasons.

That’s when the athletes must make their college decisions.

For the highly recruited athletes, they must make one of the important choices of their young lives — where will they spend the next four years of their athletic and academic careers. It can be a life-changing selection process. The constant calls, text messages and emails from prospective college coaches can easily become overwhelming.

For the lesser-recruited athletes who still want to continue their athletic careers in college, attracting the attention of college coaches brings a different kind of challenge. When the calls, text messages and emails — and most importantly, the scholarship offers — don’t happen, it can become extremely disappointing.

Closer Look: For many athletes, college recruiting takes joy out of sports

Required reading: That’s why last week’s Closer Look package by Rob Rose in The York Dispatch should be required reading for every York-Adams League high school athlete who wants to pursue a college athletic career. It’s even more important for the parents of those athletes to study the report.

It describes how the recruiting process can sap the pleasure out of sports for many teens.

Far too often, college signing day brings relief to the young athletes, not pride.

That is not the way it should be.

Ways to alleviate the stress: There’s no way to completely eliminate the emotional strain from making such an important decision at such a young age. Still, there are ways to alleviate the stress.

The folks who play the biggest roles in reducing the pressure are, not surprisingly, the parents of the athletes. Unfortunately, many parents only add to the pressure, instead of relieving it.

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That’s the opinion of York-based school psychologist Nick Kenien, who works with a number of adolescent and college athletes who have performance issues in sports.

Kenien said parents often force conversations with their children back to sports when the athlete is trying to escape the pressure of performing. In so doing, parents miss a chance to help their children take a mental break from the stress of recruiting.

It’s vitally important for the high school athlete to have a life outside of the court or the field.

The investment issue: Additionally, some parents see an athletic scholarship as a return on an investment after years of pouring cash into equipment, travel and tournaments.

That is exactly the wrong view to take.

Very few young athletes will receive significant athletic scholarship money. Only 16% of high school athletes will compete in college, and many of those get little, or zero, scholarship money.

When the investment doesn’t pay off, there is bound to be disappointment, and possibly conflict.

Mental health impact: Given that background, it shouldn’t be surprising that the recruiting process can have a negative impact on the mental health of young athletes, often leading to depression or anxiety.

Closer Look: Athletes, parents need a plan for college recruiting

The key to alleviating this problem, according to Kenien, is to destigmatize the need for therapy among athletes. They must be told that it’s OK to ask for help from sports psychologists or counselors. They can help athletes with their mental health in the same way trainers help with the physical health.

Asking for help must not be considered a sign of weakness.

Focus on the now: Finally, Kenien said it’s vital that families focus on where they are right now in the process, not look forward or behind them, and enjoy that their child is one of the chosen few high school athletes who can continue their athletic careers in college.

Sounds like some good advice.

Now we can only hope that the athletes and the parents will pay heed to his words.