Pressure, academia and competition: Why people quit organized sports

Former dancer Kim Maurer in a dance studio. (Catherine Reynolds/ The Concordian)

MONTREAL (CUP) — As a four-year-old kid in the U.K. in 2007, Kim Maurer, a current English Literature student at Concordia, was first drawn to sports when she wanted to follow in her older brother’s footsteps.

She enrolled in a wide array of sports like field hockey and football, but her true loves were dance, swimming and rounders, an English sport that resembles baseball. At 14, however, she would stop all those sports, joining an ever-growing trend of kids leaving organized sports in their teens.

“I was definitely a really happy kid because of how many sports I played. But I think, as you get older, it begins to negatively affect you,” said Maurer, recalling the pressure of competition she felt going into secondary school.

“I was always pushed academically,” she added.

“So, if I was good at school, I had to be good at sports, I had to be good at music, I had to be good at every single thing I dipped my toes into.”

Sports that once served Maurer as a distraction from school were soon overpowered by academic pressure.

“When I was doing sports, I was there physically, but not mentally, because I’d be focusing on what I have tomorrow, what kind of exams, what do I have to prepare for. It wasn’t fun anymore,” she said.

Kim Maurer holds sports awards she won when she was younger. (Catherine Reynolds/ The Concordian)

But Maurer’s not alone. More often than not, it’s the lack of fun in organized sports that makes kids quit.

“The stakes are much higher and people compare you to everyone else,” said Maurer. “That’s one of the reasons why I quit [dance], it became too toxic.”

The decision to quit swimming and rounders — one of Maurer’s favourite sports — was even harder.

Charlotte Weissler, a journalism student at Concordia, recounts a similar story.

She, too, came from a sports-oriented family and started gymnastics at four years old in France. She recalled having a love/hate relationship with the sport.

“It was a really hard sport, it hurt physically, you fall a lot, and I got injured a lot,” she said, also mentioning the mental challenges that came with putting a lot of effort into the sport. Nonetheless, she felt at home in the gym.

At seven, Weissler began competing.

“I really liked it because I was better when I was young, I was winning all my competitions and I enjoyed it obviously. But it was also stressful, and I hated that,” she said.

Going to high school at 16 changed everything for Weissler, and the pressure to have good grades was an added source of stress.

“I didn’t think I could handle four training sessions a week and do my assignments. It just wasn’t possible,” she said.

She was stuck in an all-or-nothing situation and her gym wouldn’t accommodate for fewer than four sessions per week.

However, some friends that Weissler met while doing gymnastics are now completing master’s degrees, all while keeping up with gymnastics. She believes the difference between her and them is passion.

“It was [a hard decision], but also, after 12 years, all the pressure became so strong that at one point I thought I wasn’t passionate enough to want that pressure anymore,” Weissler said.

Both Maurer and Weissler noted that many of their peers quit sports at the same time as them.

But juggling academia and sports is possible. Concordia Stingers’ Alice Philbert, goaltender for the women’s hockey team for six years, shows just that.

She started goaltending at 13 in the RSEQ — after playing defence for five years — and has dedicated her life to playing hockey and studying since then.

“I started my graduate diploma in business administration to continue playing hockey [with the Stingers],” she said. “If it wasn’t for hockey, I wouldn’t have undertaken it.”

Philbert’s coaches at Dawson and Concordia taught her valuable lessons through sports, like putting her team first and that everything is earned.

“When I go to the arena, I know I’m going to have fun,” she said. “It’s not stressful and I know people are there to help me.”

And that’s what sports should be for young people: a stress-free environment where they can have fun and make new friends.

This article was shared via the CUP Wire, maintained by the Canadian University Press.