Courteous Comments with Kirt Manion

Kirt Manion
Nebraska City News-Press

Athletes need to take a break once in a while

In terms of the athletic calendar—is it time to re-set yet?

Sports calendars fill up fast these days, and we aren’t talking about the fans’ insatiable appetite for content.

This is about athletes’ work-life balance. 

Simone Biles made the decision to step away from competition on the world’s biggest stage for fear of injury due. She just didn’t feel sharp from a mental standpoint. And that could have been dangerous.

NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers told media members upon his return to the Green Bay Packers that he used off season down time away from the Packers to ‘clear the clutter’ from his mind.

When we say mental health or refer to a less than ideal mental state, most assume that we’re talking about anxiety or depression.

Rodgers was clear in his case. He was not struggling with depression.

Biles may or may not be struggling with depression.

In the opinion of this writer—the real case here is that both athletes were feeling overwhelmed—by expectations, by work load, by the constant need to prove something to somebody.

Biles competed at Tokyo for the Olympics this year. She competed at Rio de Janeiro in 2016 too. And there were a number of events at which she competed so she could qualify to compete at the Olympic games. We are talking about the Olympic Trials of course.

But that’s not it. Not even close. 

What do Antwerp, Nanning, Glasgow, Doha, and Stuttgart have in common? Those were all sites of world championship competitions where Biles won 25 medals, 19 of them gold, from 2013 to 2019. She also competed in the Pacific Rim Championships in 2016 and the FIG World Cup in 2013, 2015 and 2019.

Beyond all those international competitions, Biles has been asked to train at Herculean levels for many years dating back to her youth. No doubt, every chance Biles had to train in gymnastics, she did so and with a serious focus.

It’s all so unrelenting.

It leads to athletes being frustrated. It leads to burn out. It steals the joy away from the activity, game or competition.

We’ve learned to accept it for too long. And that has to stop.

Youth sports, for just one instance, should focus on kids developing a love for the game. These events should not be an opportunity to identify and put under pressure the “star” of the future.

When sports turn competitive, and, anymore, that seems to be almost right away, some focus should be given to creating balance. No one activity should dominate all the time and talents of an individual person.

Let’s face it, being a talented athlete in a small town is tough. Everyone sees your skill and aptitude. And everyone wants you on their team so that they can win-win-win. 

On the one hand, you are told, play every sport. On the other hand you are told that if you do not specialize and play well outside of any season structure, you don’t care about winning and you are selfish.

Our coaches often times tell players that they value an athlete who is willing to have a diverse athletic experience. Don’t just run for the cross country team—play basketball too, and then run track and also play a stick-and-ball game in the summer.

While you are playing basketball though, don’t forget to attend the camps or out-of-season leagues for other sports.

A kid coming to compete in one sport after having just come from another sports’ competition, camp or sport specific training, is just common place.

We demand that kids compete and compete in the hopes of getting an athletic scholarship to college and then tell them when they do get the scholarship—it gets even more serious now. It’s a job. Don’t let everyone down.

And professional sports or Olympic sports are beyond my understanding.

The money is great. But the money leads to a lifestyle. And the lifestyle demands more money. And the mechanism for making the money is pressure-filled on the daily. Don’t show weakness. Failure is not an option. And that goes on 365 days of the year. There is no break of any sort for professionals.

No one is saying that they don’t get paid a lot, but the burdens, the pressures, the mind games from coaches and from team management—intense isn’t even the word.

We can do something about this. We can restore some sort of balance here.

Positive change for these issues begin in our homes and begin in our schools. Support athletes to play the sport for joy as well as for victory. 

And for those who enjoy multiple sports, coaches and players should work to steer their lives in a positive direction. Cool it with the constant camps, the demands to work out every day and all the time.

I get it. Such ideas are scary because we are in a world where we feel that, if we don’t work on a craft all the time, the next person will do it and will take from us what we want on some athletic field or court.

A blind adherence to sports over scheduling and sports specific training, however, will only lead to more hardships, more injuries and more pain, both physical and emotional.

We can do better.

Kirt Manion