This year, 2015, is my 34th year of coaching high school sports in Section I. Every so often someone comes up to me and asks, “After all these years have the kids changed? Is coaching different than it used to be?” In fact, I truly feel the kids have not changed. It’s the culture and world around them that is so very different. Kids still want to succeed. They want to be a part of something bigger. They love to represent their school. They will work hard. They are dedicated. They are easy to inspire and motivate.
It’s just that so much around them is different. The game outside the game has changed.
Kids these days are not allowed to be kids. They are not allowed to go outside and play without it being a planned supervised activity. They have to get a certain score on the SAT. They have tutors and attend SAT prep classes. They play club sports at an early age. The pressure mounts. They have to be the best. They have to go to colleges and get scholarships.
Stress, anxiety and depression plague our young people on a daily basis. Girls suffer from low self-esteem. The need for top test scores and college acceptance letters are everyday concerns.
Iphones, Ipads, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, texting — this is a way of life for our teens. Coaches have to reinforce interpersonal skills. Every day a player (usually a junior varsity player) comes up to me and just blurts out some random request. I have to remind them to say “hello” or “good morning” first.
At Lakeland High School, I have had the pleasure of working alongside some of the best coaches in Section I. I have had amazingly committed student athletes, including many Division I All Americans, National Champions, Junior National Team players and a 2012 Olympian. I have seen what hard work and dedication can achieve.
Our best educators reinforce that high school athletics are amazing opportunities to share memories but also instill incredible character and morals. Playing multiple sports in high school gives a student athlete an even better chance of success in their chosen sport in college. Being a student athlete allows a young person to develop leadership ability, dependability, humility, compassion, determination and more. High school student athletes are better equipped for future life experiences.
The 2015 fall sports season is up and running. Many field hockey programs have dropped their JVs this season. Athletic directors have said that numerous girls’ JV soccer teams and boys’ JV football teams have been dropped, forcing athletic programs to hustle up and try to fill those spots. Why has 2015 been the biggest drop in Section I programs in the past four decades? Specialization and pay-to-play sports are the biggest reasons.
I not only coach high school field hockey, but I am the club director of Hudson Valley Field Hockey. This is a small club that attends many high level tournaments and showcases. We have players from Rockland, Westchester, Dutchess and other counties. Many of our players have played at a very high level. All of our players play multiple sports. Not one player missed a college opportunity due to playing a second or third high school sport. It is my priority to support their high school activities while giving advanced opportunities in field hockey.
I started out as an educator and I will finish as an educator. I don’t begrudge the club coach that makes thousands upon thousands of dollars for their training — it is a choice. I simply don’t think it’s as valuable as the six-day-a-week experience they get from most of our high school programs.
I’m worried that the game is changing. I’m worried that parents are drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid that many club coaches are giving out. Allow your children to play high school sports for as long as it is available. High school sports are the best experiences kids can ever have. Just tell the club coach your child wants to enjoy the best of their high school experience.
And don’t look back.
Sharon Sarsen is head field hockey coach at Lakeland High School. Over the course of her 34-year tenure she has coached boys lacrosse, girls basketball, softball, girls lacrosse and field hockey.