Athletics is a tremendous vehicle for empowering students of all ages to excel and develop their character and integrity. School sports, at least in principle, are intended to be a cooperative effort to challenge students to develop and use their athletic skills in concert with being reasonable students.
Most high school athletic programs have a code of conduct that all athletes are expected to comply with. There is an academic standard that student athletes must meet or they cannot play.
In recent years, high school athletes signed a contract promising that they would not drink or drug during the season of the sport they were competing in. These contracts were key in the late eighties and early nineties. Most high schools in our area had their students sign these contracts. During those years that was the "cool thing to do."
Unfortunately, the contract concept has fallen by the wayside. Very few schools utilize this tool today. Too many of the schools that do, don't take the contract seriously.
The use and abuse of alcohol and drugs by athletes is escalating. Among many parents of athletes, there is a very different type of attitude. Some parents take the position that high school athletes are going to drink so what is the big deal? It is a rite of American passage, especially if they don't act recklessly or irresponsibly.
Other parents try to call their sons and daughters to a higher standard, but do not feel support from their children's coaches or the school administration. They express frustration around team parties where teenage drinking is tolerated. Coaches know about it but cop out and rarely address it.
We have high school athletes who are using pills, steroids and weed on a regular basis. There are growing incidents of teenage athletes who are dying senselessly because of these reckless decisions.
What further intensifies this concern is that in a number of school districts there is a double standard when it comes to athletes. If the school has a drug and alcohol policy for students, it should be equally enforced. Athletes should not be exempt. Faculty and/or coaches should not cover for them.
If a student breaks a school rule and the consequence is clearly defined, then athletes should be held to the same consequences as the rest of the student body. Unfortunately, more often than not, athletes are cut a deal. A question to be raised is, "would a marginal or fringe kid be cut the same deal?"
My observations is no! Troublesome and non-compliant students are not often cut deals. The approach that a growing number of districts are using is "out of sight, out of mind." With both parents working, out of school suspensions only further intensify the problems. For many marginal students who are already out of control, it is "party time with permission."
High school athletics are not college sports or the pros. High school athletics deal with students between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. For the most part they are still living at home and are hopefully part of some kind of family system.
High school sports have changed drastically in the last twenty years. One thing that has not changed is the fixation on winning. Winning in and of itself is not a bad objective. However, being obsessed with winning at all costs is a problem.
Physical training, practicing and team camaraderie are important. Done with balance and respect, they build character and integrity.
Unfortunately, many high school sports programs are losing sight of that balance and respect. Whatever the sport, the young athlete is told that it is to be his/her number one priority. Too often the expectation is that the young athlete's every free minute is to be devoted to the team. This carried to an extreme is unhealthy and counterproductive.
In a growing number of communities, high school athletics are disrupting and creating great tension in families. Family traditions are being suspended because of practice and team meetings. Family vacations are being passed on because some coaches must have additional practice time during school breaks. If an athlete opts to go with his or her family over the team, he or she is subtly told that his or her starting position could be in jeopardy. The traditional family meal is being totally buried because practices are often five or six days a week, right through the traditional dinner hour.
The control that some coaches have over their athletes is a mixed blessing. Many coaches are tremendous role models and support by example everything that we, as parents, would hope for. These coaches usually try to be in concert with and supportive of family life.
There are other coaches that are equally controlling and positive, but fall short in calling their athletes to social accountability, when it comes to schoolwork and drug and alcohol use. They know their athletes are cheating in these areas and they choose to be blind to it.
With all that has been recently written about college and pro athletes abuse of drugs, alcohol and steroids, I think all of our public, religious and private high schools should institute mandatory drug testing before every game. The athletic community should want to set a standard that calls all of its' athletes to be the best that they can be. If this procedure is to be implemented, it must be equally enforced and the appropriate sanctions must be imposed without exception.
Tolerating student athletes reckless decision-making on an on-going basis is not building character and integrity, but rather putting them at risk!