Why Can't We Just Have Fun? Why Teen Activities Shouldn't Be Taken so Seriously

Op-ed

Overcompetitiveness Has Become the Norm

At my school, there are five different band classes. Out of those, three are select. Student activities become more and more competitive each year. If you're not the best, it feels like you've failed. It's embarrassing to be anything less than elite. Activities like this pit teens against each other. Everything has become a competition. It creates an incredibly toxic environment void of the enjoyment you used to have for the sport or club. What's the point of making everything so competitive? I can't find a clear answer. Sports and clubs should be fun activities that teens can enjoy, but instead they are taken so seriously that they become very stressful.

So why do teenagers keep participating in these activities? Well, the answer is quite obvious: winning is fun. They convince themselves that even though practice is hard and they don't like it, once they win it will all be better. At first, it is. But the stress doesn't end there though. After you win one game or competition, you have to win another. You have to work even harder and the cycle just starts all over again.

Additionally, in many sports, if you win enough games, you move up to the next division of competition. For example: novice to select, select to elite. In these new divisions, you probably won't be as skilled as many of the other teams. Although playing against teams that are better than you can make you strive to do better, it can also be very stress-inducing. In this case, success can quite literally make it harder to succeed.

Please don't think that I'm saying hard work isn't valuable. That's not what I mean at all. I'm saying that sports and clubs shouldn't be the most stressful aspects of our lives. They should be fun. If I don't want to be a professional athlete, why do sports have to be the most important thing in my life? In every activity I participate in, it feels like the coach or leader of it thinks it's your whole life. They expect you to never miss practice, even if it's for a valid reason, and to never mess up. Why are we putting teens under that kind of pressure? Is it really for them? Or is it for their teachers, coaches, and parents?

Stressful Activities Can be Detrimental to Mental Health

According to Athletes for Hope, only 30% of college students suffering from mental health conditions seek help. If that isn't bad enough, only 10% of student athletes with mental illnesses do. Many sports teams and coaches stress "mental toughness", which can make it harder for athletes to admit when something isn't right, even though mental illnesses are in every way as valid as physical sickness and injuries.

I've stressed over band more than school. How sad is that? I'm not even that passionate about band. However, everyone in it takes it so seriously and I feel bad for not prioritizing it and bringing down everyone else. Let me clarify something: I'm not bad at playing my instrument; I'm just not elite. I am not passionate enough about band to make it the center of my universe. I don't practice every single day and I shouldn't have to feel bad about that. I shouldn't have to choose all or nothing. I should be able to just do something because I enjoy it.

Plus, the cost of lessons, practices, and equipment isn't cheap. Teens are old enough to understand how much money their parents are putting into the activities they participate in. This just adds to the stress that's already on their shoulders. They feel that they have to win constantly to make their parents happy. Many teens feel stuck in the sports they play. They feel their families have invested too much time and money for them to quit now, even if the passion is no longer there.

Everything is just so competitive. How is the same generation that grew up on participation trophies and instant gratification being constantly pressured to be the best? Am I the only one that sees the irony here? Why can't there be some middle ground? Competitive sports shouldn't cease to exist. There are kids that are so passionate about one activity that they want it to be their whole lives. It is really great that they have such commitment and love for one thing. However, it shouldn't have to be that way. We should be able to explore our interests and have fun in high school. I mean, isn't that what high school is all about? Figuring out what we're passionate about, what we want to do with the rest of our lives?

Activities Should be a Break From Stress

You could definitely argue that sports and other activities give teens distractions from other problems in their lives. Sports can even help you to strengthen your mental health. It's all about balance. Teens already have enough stress put on them by school, their home lives, and social circles. Activities should be an escape, not just another thing to worry about.

Many of my friends are in show choir. Their practices are very toxic and competitive. The members are pitted against each other and their rehearsals are very tense. Teammates should be families you can lean on, not people who tear each other apart.

We shouldn't have to go to practices that make us stressed and upset every day just to be active in after-school activities. There should be options that aren't that great a time commitment. We shouldn't only be able to participate in one activity and commit to it for the rest of our high school careers. If teenagers want to excel and be wonders in their field of choice, that's amazing. But there must be other options.

Sophia Juhler
1,000+ pageviews

Sophia is a high school freshman from Iowa who is passionate about reading and writing. In her free time, Sophia enjoys blogging, daydreaming, playing bassoon and clarinet, doing cross stitch, and spending time with family and friends. She hopes to use the written word to change the world.