Athletics and Happiness

Ever wonder what the future holds for the school athletes you know—or knew? Was it all worth it? When they get older and evaluate through the eyes of time, would they have participated in athletics if they had to do it all over again? These were the kinds of questions for which Max F. Shifrer wanted to find answers, so he asked seventy-four former small-town high school athletes these and many other questions. The men had graduated from high school over a ten-year period—1945 to 1954—and had participated in football, basketball, baseball, track and field, or tennis. Here are some of the important facts that Max discovered:

—85 percent said they’d do it over again; the remaining 15 percent said they’d still be involved “considerably” in athletics.

—However, the percentage dropped to 72 percent when the men were asked if they’d advise a boy entering high school to participate in athletics.

—27 percent—more than one out of every four—said that they were permanently injured, some very seriously, from athletic competition.

—66 percent felt that athletic participation contributed to “unjustifiable feelings of importance among some team members”—or out-and-out snobbery.

—Max found very mixed feelings about the extent to which athletics helped former athletes subdue undesirable traits, even though more than half of the men gave credit to athletics for helping them in this fight.

—Less than half (only 42 percent) said that they continued to participate in their school-days sport. And it was the men who had played tennis who continued to thoroughly enjoy their high school sport—100 percent of them!

—89 percent thought that athletics helped them to develop and maintain physical fitness; 65 percent felt that the habits of eating, sleeping, and exercising had carried over into their present living.

—40 percent—a very high percentage—agreed that sports had interfered with their class studies.

—92 percent said that participation in athletics helped them establish “real friendships”; 84 percent said it helped them “develop courage and self-confidence”; 88 percent said it helped “develop calmness and poise under pressure”; 94 percent said it helped “develop cooperation and teamwork”; and 77 percent said it helped them “develop leadership”—all good assets!

—19 percent said athletics had helped them to a “great extent” in their work; 35 percent said it had helped “considerably”; 28 percent said it had helped “to a small extent”; and 15 percent said it hadn’t helped at all.

—77 percent said they were successful in their present work, but the tennis athletes and two-sport athletes indicated the most success.

—Men who had played in four or more sports reported more unhappiness and less satisfaction than others, probably because an overemphasis on sports had forced a neglect of studies that in turn resulted in poorer preparation for life.

—82 percent said that athletic prominence had helped them in their vocational pursuit.

—And 54 percent said that athletics encouraged them to “stay in school.” All in all, the study showed that moderate involvement in athletics is very worthwhile, but not essential for everyone. It was noted that many of today’s best students are not necessarily athletic in nature, but that everyone should develop some physical activity that he enjoys, particularly one that can have some carry-over value into later life.