According to a study in 2017 by the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls are dropping out of sports at 1.5x the rate that boys do by age 14. Then by age 17, more than half of girls will quit playing sports altogether. Many factors play into this statistic, many connect to mental health. These statistics include; not seeing a future for themselves in the sport, believing they were not good enough, missing out on their social life, and prioritizing their academics.
Female high school athletes in the Sacramento area agreed to interview in order to dive deeper into their experience with mental health and sports. These athletes have experience in many levels from competitive AAU basketball, to travel softball, to Varsity basketball, and varsity softball. The athletes have wished to remain anonymous in protection of their athletic careers.
Seventeen year old, AAU basketball and Varsity player shares her experience on why she decided to quit basketball.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved basketball since I was in kindergarten, but after middle school it just turned into something completely different. I would spend my nights before and after games sobbing in my bed full of anxiety. All my friends know because I would send Snapchats of myself all gross and crying every time I had one of these breakdowns. I would be so stressed the night before, in fear of making turnovers, then after my game I just could not stop replaying every turnovers I made. I look back, and realize I was having panic attacks every night from the pressure that came with playing Varsity.”
The demand that is expected from Varsity players is very extreme. The terms, “Death Week,” “‘we will stop once someone pukes,’” and “Suicides,” that are used for conditioning illustrate the level of extreme.
Along with sports there also is the juggling of one’s personal life, academics, and mental health. It is not a rare occurrence for the life of a student athlete to be overbearing. “Then came the expectation of playing your best in front of scouts in order to obtain scholarships, right after I had gotten into a fight with my mom or had a hard day at school. The demand just never ended. Imagine hearing the screams, ‘you think college coaches are gonna like that turnover?!’ or ‘c’mon we’ve gone over this over a hundred times why aren’t you getting it?!’ all from your coach that is taking their job a little too seriously. Like c’mon this isn’t the NBA, it’s highschool basketball,” expressed the player.
The inability to see a future in athletics due to the poor, even nonexistent, funding and media coverage of women’s pro sports, is a major contributor to the poor mental health of young women athletes. Seventeen year old, travel softball player and Varsity softball player highlights her struggle with her sport due to the lack of women pro sport opportunities.
“You know at least for guys, if they are drained from their sport they can look on T.V and see Lebron James with his multi-million dollar jewelry, mansion, and sports car. When I’m drained, I’m constantly reminded that this sport won’t take me anywhere past college. I’m just like then why am I putting all this work in for.”
“It not only discourages how I value my sport, but also how I value myself as a woman. It’s just so draining, it feels like an endless loop I can’t escape. I just want to play my sport without being reminded that a man is better at it than I am,” continues the athlete.
Another Varsity basketball player elaborates on her experience of the constant comparison of boys and girls sports.
“Last season, the girl’s basketball team only lost one game out of the entire season. The boys only won one. Guess who got new jerseys the next season. The boys. It’s so infuriating to constantly be disrespected like that. It wasn’t even like they pulled in more sales. All the students were showing up to our games to watch us actually win.”
“While conditioning to overhear the boys’ coach say, ‘let’s go ladies!’ to his male athletes never feels good as a girl. It’s so annoying to inevitably be devalued by being constantly compared to the guys. Like of course they’re going to be stronger, it’s science, what is the need for comparison.”
There is a pattern between all of these athletes’ experiences, it is of being devalued. Their strengths, their work ethic, their sacrifices, and love of the game never seems to be noticed enough. There are many factors that go into the growing rate of teen girls quitting their beloved childhood sports, but they all correlate around the idea that girls are never given the chance to be proud of themselves.