Over 50% of middle school and high school students are involved in a school sport, and it is widely looked upon as healthy, and highly encouraged. Schools pride themselves in their sports teams, most which have become no longer recreational activities but very serious pursuits. Even dangerous. Kids are often being overworked by their coaches, treated with disrespect, injured in ways which could've been prevented by the coach, and worst of all, are not even telling you about it.
I have personally experienced all of this, on my high school sports team. And this is my story.
At the end of my sophomore year, I tried out for the dance team, aka the poms team, being a dancer and gymnast for most of my life. I was accepted onto the team, much to my excitement. But that excitement didn't even last the year. I had to quit. The biggest reason being my health, and how it was carelessly and constantly jeopardized by the coach.
Now I'm talking about the dance team, but basketball, football, and baseball teams have the highest rate of injuries, and basketball, track and soccer teams have the highest rate of deaths (National Center for Sports Safety). Contact sports also have students pressured to take steroids, and worse. So keep in mind that even if your child is not on the dance team, it's still important to read on. And this poms team was not for sissy girls. We were worked hard, forced to run, sprint, do agonizing drills until our arms felt like they're going to fall off, can-can kick until our legs could hardly move, do 100 sit-ups in a row, and do jumps that required every ab muscle you have. We also had to wear ankle and wrist weights during practice sometimes, which make you feel like you're 300 pounds and moving underwater. But this wasn't the worst of it.
I was, and am, a thin girl, by genetics and a fast metabolism. But I was strong, healthy, and had fantastic stamina. But even these factors couldn't keep me going on this team. Our coach was a woman in her mid-20s, that had been coaching the team for the past year. She swore at us often, and said some things that alarmed me. But that was only the beginning. She got very angry at us when we didn't get the routine just right during practice, and would scream at us to do it over, and over, and over. She would yell things like "I'm going to rip you a new a**hole!", and "You all look like sh*t!". She wouldn't let us have any water until we got it right. The drinking fountain was a privilege, not available upon need. Practice was 2-3 hours after school every day, and sometimes on weekends. My thin form became bony, and I would sometimes get home from practice and throw up from being so overworked. I would get faint and dizzy during practice after doing our routine "full out" (with our best effort, as if there were judges watching) 6 times in a row without a drink of water, and would tell the coach I needed to sit down, but she wouldn't allow it. One afternoon during practice after she finally let us take a break, I had to lay flat on my back on the floor for 20 minutes just so I could stand up again, despite her snide remarks.
It got worse... For a competition routine some of us had to slide down onto the floor into splits, without using our hands, which can be done easily unless you have to do it 10 times a day. I pulled something in my leg because of this, but that was no excuse according to my coach. I had to keep doing it. It became so painful to slide into splits this way that my legs would become paralyzed in pain, and it took extreme effort to come out of the position quickly and run to my next spot. It got to the point where I was shaking trying to stand up out of the position and limping to my next spot with tears streaming down my face, and had to dance the rest of the routine including kicks, jumps, turns, etc. During one practice I was trying to come out of the splits and was locked into place by the pain, and the coach yelled at me. I told her my leg was hurt and couldn't move, and she screamed that she didn't care whether a bone was sticking out of my leg, I had to keep dancing. Exact quote.
After this, I finally confided in my mother. She took me to the doctor, and they told me that if I continued to do this to my leg that it may be damaged permanently. I was also taken to a nutritionist to help regain my weight and health. I was down to 86 pounds, and was blacking out in the mornings after not eating for 8 hours, collapsing on the kitchen floor while trying to fix myself cereal. My doctor said that if I did not quit the dance team, she would have to pull me off, for the sake of my life. Not to mention all the emotional stress I was undergoing, including anxiety and depression. I quit the team, even though it was just weeks until the State competition. My coach was angry, now that my spot had to be filled. I was shunned by the rest of the team at school, and was hated by a few in particular. But it was worth it, because I just may have saved my life.
Over half the team that year was made up of new girls, who didn't put forth a lot of effort most of the time and chose instead to put up with being constantly yelled at by the coach. So as far as I know, they didn't sustain the injuries I did. And the other girls were a tight-knit group of juniors who had been on the team since freshman year, and received special treatment from the coach. She even invited them to parties where they drank together. I thought that no one else would ever report her. But when my mother complained to the school, we were told that the coach would be let go after this year, because ours was not the first complaint made by a parent of a new girl.
Many coaches are not looking out for your kids, but pushing them to extremes, as a coach may with a professional sports team. But these are kids, not professional athletes. And being fit, like I was, doesn't protect you. Overuse injury is responsible for nearly half of all sports injuries to middle and high school students. And most of all sports injuries occur at practice (National Center for Sports Safety). I heard things about the other sports teams at my school too, such as the swim team being forced to come to school at 5 a.m. every day and swim for three hours before class then another three hours after class. They were also pressured to shave their heads, their legs and armpits, and most did. Are high school sports suddenly the Olympics? With immense pressure and potential permanent injuries? And how are schools really choosing their coaches? Many are college students, irresponsible, sometimes sports-maniacs or fitness-freaks, or older coaches that view their team as their life, and take it so seriously it becomes torture for the students. And in many cases, the parents are living through their child's achievements in their sports and extracurricular activities. And so even if they're told about what's going on, they disregard it. And it never gets reported, while most of the other kids feel too embarrassed to report a coach. And these coaches keep on coaching.
So this is where you come in. Look into your child's sports they're involved in. Check up on their health, on their coach, on how often they have practice. Ask them about how much fun they're having, how much they like their coach, and how they get along with the other kids on the team. They might not come right out with something, so keep trying. I know this from experience... I didn't tell my mom everything that was going on with the coach and on the team for almost a year. You have to be persistent, and somewhat of a detective! But you may just end up saving your child's ankle, leg, arm, or even his or her life.
There are up to 100 sudden deaths among athletes in middle, high school and college every year, said Dr. Marlon Rosenbaum, associate clinical professor of medicine and pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. Not to mention deaths from dehydration, emaciation, concussion, and heat illnesses. Many of which could've been prevented by the coach.
Pass this on to all the parents you know that have children involved in sports, and let's spread the word about the shocking truth of what may be going on behind closed doors on your child's school sports team.
This post has been updated since its previous publication.