Arts, Athletics, and After-School Hours: Whatever Happened to “Try New Things?”

by Julie Edelstein ‘22

Source: Ms.Pino

Published Apr. 3, 2022

Adolescents are encouraged to become tunnel-minded on their goals, but important stages of growth over the course of a lifetime are noted with finding new areas to excel at. Entering high school marks one of these stages. Freshmen arrive on a wave of high expectations and potential, and while many fulfill their dreams, many more are burnt out by year three. 

In an informal survey conducted among students at Montgomery High School, the highest percentage of students, 32%, noted that they were committed to only two extracurricular activities. However, while 64% of students claimed that commitment to activities was extremely important to them, only 23% of the students thought of themselves as very capable of maintaining their commitments. If it’s not too difficult for a student to find a niche that makes them passionate and excited, the question remains regarding why an activity that a student loves can become difficult to enjoy. The answer comes down to encouragement. 

First, there is a sense of discouragement that tags along to high levels of encouragement being placed exclusively on a particular group. This is seen most often in the attention placed on student-athletes. 78% of students believe that athletic clubs at Montgomery High School are valued over other extracurriculars, many of whom also believe that the discrepancies in favoritism between activities was unfair to the amount of effort put into them. For no other reason than inherent popularity, students involved in sports are shoved under a spotlight. The heightening bar of expectations for athletes, who wear the pride of the school in letters on expensive jackets, quickly becomes impossible to meet, and many face crippling pressure leading to anxiety, toxic competition between teammates, and burnout. 

Second, there is a simple lack of encouragement. For students invested in the arts, the evident hole created by a failure to gain a sense of fulfillment wears deeper as time goes by. While athletics help students earn placements on recruitment lists, it is difficult to earn similar favors as a student involved in theater. While they endure grueling practices that often last much longer than athletic practices, they are not given the respect their commitment warrants unless they maintain a leading position. The deprivation of encouragement makes many question whether it is worth giving up study hours and mental health for a passion when it has little payoff.

When students are forced to set their sights on an activity and stick with it throughout their high school career, they learn to believe that if they don’t get enough out of it, they are not doing well enough. The mindset, while evidently self-destructive, is systematically perpetuated as students are exposed to images of exceptional people who have mastered their craft, beckoning others to do the same. High school is supposed to be about exploring and evolving, and students cannot do either if they are forced to believe that it is best to continue doing what hurts them. 

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