First-year students often look to create a name for themselves on varsity sports teams in the high school. Notwithstanding the pride and honor of varsity status, these positions have high standards and expectations to fulfill. Since the competition level is higher and more challenging, especially for relatively inexperienced first-year students, sudden immersion into such an intense environment can be challenging to navigate.
Initially, feeling out of place is typical for freshman varsity athletes. Not only would they have to adjust to the challenge of playing alongside upperclassmen, but also against bigger and stronger opponents. Indeed, many are unsure of themselves and possibly feel inferior to their older peers. When paired with the new complexities of life, like the new workload of high school, the expectation to perform at the varsity level can be burdensome for some.
Also, it is essential to consider the team morale and group dynamics, as a young addition may yield varied responses. More specifically, the conflict could arise if a freshman athlete gets more playing time than upperclassmen. This resentment does not occur often, but when it does, it has the potential to cause issues on and off the playing field. Coaches must weigh the benefits of playing the most talented players, which may include younger athletes, against the possibility of a disruption in team chemistry. After all, winning teams depend on team chemistry as much as they depend on talent, so it is essential to find a balance between the two.
Although the varsity experience may seem intimidating, it is valuable to younger mindsets. Through every play and at each practice, freshman athletes work to prove themselves as capable and mature members of the team, striving to excel at a fast rate, while hoping to earn the respect of their teammates. Current sophomore Davis Flusche, who was a member of the varsity hockey team and also had the experience of playing in a varsity soccer game as a freshman, shared that “it challenged me to play at a high level with kids who were bigger, faster and stronger, which helped me improve. As a freshman, I was only starting to get used to all aspects of high school and playing with people who were not in my grade. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by kids who were two or three years older than me. It was an adjustment that I had to make, but my teammates made it easier than I expected.” Despite the age gap, individuals can benefit from the supportive and meaningful relationships that develop with upperclassmen. Even if they do not get as much playing time, this exposure can provide them with valuable insight, since the immediate experience at the highest level creates top leaders.
Although upperclassmen are expected to have an advantage of playing over a more extended period, freshmen athletes promoted to varsity teams have often experienced similar high pressure games and dedicated considerable time to earn their spot. Overall, age does not influence how the game is played since all athletes are given an equal opportunity to advance and to make the team stronger. Since coaches often focus putting out the best team, if a gifted first-year student can make meaningful athletic contributions and they have the work ethic and discipline necessary to improve their game, they should play their position, regardless of their age. Thus, since the varsity team is for the already developed players, the path to varsity is through hard work. As a result of the high intensity and competition, a strong sense of being one team can be established.
Graphic: Sofia Lee