Pressure pushing down on young stars?

Jack Dugan and Sesha Subramanian look at the increasing pressure on young sports stars.

Jack Dugan
3rd December 2018
Image- Wikipedia

Freddy Adu- Jack Dugan

Heaping pressure on young athletes, in most cases, is nothing short of disastrous. Due to the glitz and glamour of professional sports, many fans often forget the fact that these athletes are young adults. Could you handle performing in front twenty thousand people all shouting and swearing at you?

Undoubtedly, some young athletes thrive off this pressure such as Michael Owen and Beckham, yet most crumble. If you look back at any predicted XI for England’s future major tournaments, most end up being nowhere near the lofty heights tipped for them.

Some ‘high profile’ flops are the likes of Federico Macheda and Freddy Adu. Macheda was tipped to be the next Ronaldo but ended up fading into nothing. However, the most famous flop has to be Freddy Adu. Freddy Adu made his MLS debut aged 14 and was tipped widely as the next Pele. The media swarmed Freddy and he was the constant object of media attention. He was made the USA’s youngest ever player at 16 in a friendly against Canada in 2006. The titans of European football swooped for his signature, and trials at Manchester United followed.

Eventually, after becoming an MLS all-star twice before his eighteenth birthday, Adu was signed by Benfica. Yet all the hype and pressure got to him. He crumbled at Benfica and was loaned out all over the place, ending up with a journeyman career amassing little over 200 games over 8 countries in 15 years. Hardly the next Pele that he was tipped to be.

At 29 it looks like the time for Adu is ticking. A sad tale of too much pressure at too young an age leaves Adu as a legend only in Football Manager. Chucking young professionals in at the deep end is too much pressure and that is unforgiving, considering only 0.5% of those young athletes at top clubs make it. We need to give them time to develop and nurture their talent before piling on extra pressure.

Alexander Zverev- Sesha Subramanian

When Alexander Zverev defeated Novak Djokovic to win the ATP World Tour Finals in London, the Serbian was effusive in his praise for his German opponent, saying that he hoped that Zverev would surpass him one day. Zverev is still only 21 years of age and he still has a long way to go before he can hope to match the expectations that not only his fans but even famous exponents of the game like Djokovic and Bjorn Borg have placed on him.

In a broader sense, these comments on Zverev once again bring questions of whether or not he will be able to match it. With media attention devoted to players of all sports of all ages, some people take issue with pressurising young players – saying that it tends to hinder their development as players by putting undue amounts of expectation on them.

I tend to disagree with that view. Sports is as much about mental fortitude as it is about physical ability. And young players who have reached a certain level in their youth careers need to be able to handle the pressures that come with being a talented youngster in a sport.

Alexander Zverev has shown that he can handle it this far. He had a few difficult years when he was a junior tennis player coming up through the International Tennis Federation circuits but instead of being put down by the lack of success, he decided to embrace the fact that he had difficulties and worked on his game. As he began to taste success, he began to garner further attention from everybody involved. When he entered the professional level, the attention only increased exponentially.

Thriving under pressure is an attribute that is required in every sport these days – whether it is pressure from coaches, pressure from fellow competitors, pressure from the media and so on. And putting pressure on a young sports star is an important way of determining if that person has what it takes to succeed from a mental point of view. And I don’t think that is a bad thing.

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