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This is a story about an injury to a pretty good lacrosse player. This young man is a multiple sport athlete and looks to be going to play lacrosse in college, and maybe getting some athletic financial aid for playing at the division I level. He now has had an injury that keeps him out of competition in both sports that he plays.
                 Let’s look at the extenuating circumstances during this journey that led to this injury, and many other injuries like it.  A similar event could be happening over and over again in many sports or activities at many levels in our children’s lives.
                With all the money spent on this boy’s athletic journey, how much more financial aid could he have gotten academically? How much will that shape his future after college? How much of the money his family spent on his athletic pursuit could be thought of as an investment in his future that needs a tangible reward? You see, putting that much more emphasis on athletics versus academics does have a long term consequence. The lack of balance can and most times can be quite costly, both physically and mentally in the future. You see, being built up by coaches, friends, and family does have a long lasting effect on the aspiring D I athlete when it doesn’t work out, and it doesn’t most of the time. Only 1% of all students who attend a four year college play DI athletics, and even less play for free. What happens when the athlete has to cope with reality after the playing days are over?
                When the athlete does not get the financial reward he or she thinks they have earned, rightfully or not, this disconnect does have long term ramifications. In some cases, athletes leave college without getting their degree. They come home, and all the attention and adulation is gone. They sometimes don’t even go to college.
                When they go back to their home town they are just another athlete who didn’t make it. They feel resentment. “Hey, I was told I was great. I got treated like a king when I was playing at the elite level.” But all those people are gone. Those people are only a stark reminder of what was just an illusion of greatness, or just a short term rise to the top. They are looking for the next great player. The possibility of another player who has little or no balance in their life to help them cope with the harsh reality that is the real world coming through the pipeline  does not faze them. Why should it? They are swept up into the tsunami just like the athlete.
                These athletes keep going to these “elite” teams and playing at “elite” showcases all the while foregoing the most important part of their development: Balance. The athletes need to learn about relationships, getting along with people, not being above them. Academics need to be stressed, and how their importance helps shape an athlete’s life after their playing days are over, need to be at the forefront of development, not an afterthought. These are the life skills in youth sports that are the most important to develop. It’s not the three point shot, the slap shot, or the big tennis serve. Players are trained to think specialization makes them special, it does not. We are seeing more and more of this disconnect as this generation finishes their playing careers with disillusionment, injuries, and mental angst.
                 An athlete’s family thinks he is entitled to a large financial return for his “elite” status and they feed the beast, which is “more is better” through specialization. They may push the athlete to “go for the gold” all the while dreaming of their own status and financial security from the athlete’s supposed future mega contract. The college scholarship arrives, and fuels the belief that fame is possible, and maybe probable. But do most of us really know if he is or isn’t getting the full dollar amount his friends and families are bragging about? Do we know the exact dollar amount?  The average scholarship is about $8,700 a year. Why is it so hard to find out the truth about the dollar amount of these scholarships?
                 Isn’t it interesting that most of the time the people bragging about the scholarship athlete are trying to be connected to that athlete for status and ego? I heard of one family making a big financial donation to a college just so that they could say their son was going to the DI school on an athletic scholarship. Parents and athletes bragging about using a recruiting service are ending up at DIII colleges that have no athletic scholarships. Most are going tom colleges within a three to four hour drive from their hometown.
                Why do some parents exaggerate their claims of scholarship for their child without realizing that it can make other children jealous or try to emulate the player? They think they are as talented as the player getting the “scholarship.” If he or she feels they are as good as the player getting the scholarship, they will try and play harder; not knowing that the player they look up to is not really getting the money to play in college that everyone is told they are getting.
                 In most cases the player is not that good, and tries to play above their comfort level or ability. An unrealistic vision appears of what a DI athlete is fantasizes in their minds and it shapes how they think, feel, and act. Players start doing reckless, self centered plays, regardless of the consequences to their teammates and opponents. A lot of times the player who delivers the cheap shot is not the one who gets the payback. Another injury happens and no one relates it to anything other than the play in which it happens. Well, now you know different. Back to the story.
                 What make this youth sports injury so intriguing to me are the circumstances before the injury that may have lead to the injury. But let’s get what we know to be the facts out first before I look at the cause and effect paradigm.
                During a faceoff at mid-field this young man won the ball and headed down the field towards the opposing goal. While approaching the defenders’ goal, he was checked by an opposing player, face to face. This player was given a one minute penalty for cross checking and the young man who was hit got hurt. He suffered a concussion.
                I have seen numerous replays of the hit, and although it was a crosscheck, it did not seem to be of the vicious nature, but I wasn’t there to see it in person in front of 2,000 people. And I wasn’t trying to win a championship. What I want to discuss in this week’s blog is the many different circumstances going on before the hit, way before, and the ensuing reaction to the hit.
                As you may or may not know, I suffered eight concussions during my athletic career, and I am very sensitive to this issue. The first thing I want to discuss is the injured boy’s background. Being a multiple sport athlete, this young man, who by all accounts is a very good person, plays a lot of sports, and plays them at a pretty high level for the area he is from. I do not have the exact data on how often he plays or even if he plays two sports at once. I do not know if he attends showcases or not.
                What I do know is that while playing hockey he received a concussion, and that his future is certainly going to be watched much more carefully for health reasons than it would have been before  we gained the important knowledge we have today on concussions.
                 What I know is that he was considered or is considered a star athlete at his high school. But understand this could be any boy, in any sport. That is what I am trying to teach. It is applicable to the entire youth sport’s paradigm.
                Let’s say that this boy was continually being told that he was a star. He got more playing time and was doing great things on the playing field and rink. Maybe he got to believe he was very good and started taking chances, relying on his athletic ability to get him in and out of situations that other players could not. Maybe the more playing time he got made him more susceptible to injuries because instead of using his teammates more, which is what college coaches want, he tried more individual tactics putting himself in harm’s way more often. By having the player more tired than he actually thought he was, his reaction time was just a bit off, and the next hit he got was one that, if not so tired, he could have gotten out of the way or at least deflected it.
                What if he had the very best equipment? What if that equipment helped feed the belief that he was invincible, once again upping the possibility of injury? What if he felt having the very best equipment on his body, feet, and head made him believe he was the very best; capable of doing the best things out on the field or rink, and that he pushed himself outside his abilities and paid a price with an avoidable injury?
                The coaches run out on the field attending to their star player, bend over him like a wounded warrior in battle without realizing their culpability in the injury. The one coach yells at the other coach for his player’s cheap hit not understanding that by playing that player so much and relying on him so much other players on the team felt subconsciously that they had to do less. They watched while the star player did his “thing.”
                 The opposing coach, not realizing what his player was going to do, because he had not benched him for similar plays in the past, allowed his players a feeling of recklessness. They did not respect their opponent. This star player wasn’t so hot. Why was he getting all the adulation?  ”I’m as good as he is.” Then whamo , the hit is made, and the excuses start, but it is too late. A needless injury has occurred and many of the people who were responsible for it will never know their role in the  avoidable tragedy and its long term consequences.
                You see most catastrophic injuries have their root way before the actual injury takes place. Even the so called “freak” accident or injury, when analyzed in its entire journey or time line leading up to the injury, could have very possibly been avoided. Sometimes, a player receives an “off season” injury and does not put two and two together to see the entire time line and journey that led to the ultimate catastrophic injury.
                I really truly hope this blog helps save children from an avoidable. injury

Written by : VJS