The real price of an Olympic medal: does a child need a big sport - ForumDaily
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The real price of an Olympic medal: does a child need a big sport

I love watching the Olympic Games. Holiday atmosphere. The spirit of competition. The beauty of jumps, turns and other complex figures that athletes perform seems to defy all the laws of physics. The joy of victories and pride in our athletes. And they film it so beautifully today: it’s like you feel the smell of snow, the cool wind in your face at competitions for skiers and snowboarders, the euphoria when an athlete understands - this has happened, “I’m an Olympic champion!”

The history of the Ukrainian figure skater, who moved to the United States, as well as how sports costs are rising and what to do if a sports career failed, Tatiana Vorozhko told in a blog for VOA.

Фото: Depositphotos

In the United States, for a short period of time—shortly before the start of the Olympics, during it, and for some time after—the brightest American winners become pop culture stars. For many Americans, the Olympics are a reminder that there are sports other than American football, baseball, basketball and hockey. And that competitions are not only between university teams.

Despite the almost childish faces of the athletes - many are 15-18 years old - I also think about how difficult it was for them at a very young age, about the injuries they suffered, and especially about those children who trained just as hard as these lucky ones, but - due to physiology, injury or financial and other circumstances - they were forced to leave the sport, devoting their childhood to it.

Six-year-old children work 4 hours a day. Ten year olds - 6-7

Among them is Kiev resident Vladislava Rybka, champion of Ukraine among juniors in pairs figure skating in 2009 and 2010, who also trained and competed in the USA.

At two and a half years old, she was diagnosed with bronchitis with an asthmatic component, and the doctor advised, in addition to the course of treatment, climatotherapy - breathing cold, damp air. “Yes, at the age of four we came to the skating rink,” says Natalya Shultz, a researcher in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at Georgetown University, who worked as a doctor and researcher at the Institute of Cardiology in Ukraine.

First the health group. We went to the skating rink 3-4 times a week. Although the asthma subsided by the age of six, the sport did not give up. The child began to study at least 4 hours a day with one day off. In addition to training on ice, there are physical exercises, ballet, rhythmic and classical dances, acrobatics.

“The better results a child shows, the more work we have to do. Four hours is no longer enough. If an athlete competes, then at the age of 10-11 he should be training 6-7 hours a day. It is when a child is 6-10 years old that the hardest work occurs,” says Natalya.

Vlada did her homework in the car, in traffic jams, while her mother drove her from the center to Svyatoshino. We arrived, ate and went to bed. In the morning it’s all over again.

Certain injuries occur in 99% young skaters

The demands on young athletes today are so high, says Natalya, that the child’s body, which is still growing, does not have time to adapt to the stress. The result is injuries.

“Bundles do not have time to grow and are torn from chronic stress. The body does not have time to recover from workouts. There are micro and macrofractures of the muscles. The biggest problem that affects the 99% of all young skater athletes is the dystrophy of the cartilage surface of the joint, as there is not enough nutrients from the joints because of excessive work.

Vladislav Rybka with a partner in junior competitions. Photo: Voice of America

Also - load on the spine. With every jump, the intervertebral discs are damaged. Dysplasia occurs, that is, they shrink, there is no longer a shock absorber gel between them, which, in turn, disrupts blood circulation, the vessels and nerve endings that go to all organs are compressed. During heavy training, a large load is placed on the cardiovascular system, causing working hypertrophy of the myocardium, and it is difficult to predict how these changes may result for a child who is still growing,” says Natalya Schultz.

Worst of all, she says, girls compete in figure skating, because when she lands on the ice after her partner throws up, there is an additional pressure on the joints and ligaments, because a fall from a height is also added to her own body weight. Chronic injuries, says Natalia, are the biggest problem. After them it is more difficult to recover. According to Natalia, it is very important for parents of athletes to find a competent trainer who understands the physiology of the human body and will not force the child to do more than what the body is ready for.

Negative emotions also affect health, because judging in figure skating is not always fair. Another is a diet, when a child is forced to count calories and deny himself treats all the time.

Vladislav Rybka with a partner in junior competitions. Photo: Voice of America

And all this costs a lot of money. If a child gets into the national team, the Figure Skating Federation pays for the ice, that is, the time at the skating rink, says Natalya, and the coaches - figure skating, dancing, acrobatics, massage therapist, etc. - have to pay all the time. In 2007-2008, she recalls, Vlada’s classes cost 250-300 hryvnia per day ($50 - $60).

Figure skating lessons in the USA at a high level - minimum $2000 per week

Child figure skating became the basis for moving to the United States. Because of the financial crisis, the Federation began to reduce access to ice for athletes, and friend Rashid Kadirkaev, who was the champion of the USSR together with Elena Kvitchenko, invited trainers to train in Virginia Natalia and her daughter.
“At first we came for the summer. Vlada studied from five in the morning until six in the evening. So, for two years in a row - in 2009 and 2010 - we won the Ukrainian Figure Skating Championship among juniors,” says Natalya.

“We calculated: with all the discounts that Rashid gave us, and taking into account the fact that I did the massages myself and replaced the sports doctor, figure skating lessons cost us two thousand dollars a week,” says Natalya. She says they could only afford to pay for 2-3 months of training per year.
The United States is one of the few countries without government support for the Olympics, let alone children's sports. Everything is paid for either by parents or (if you are lucky enough to find them) by sponsors.

But it was in the USA that Vlada was seriously injured, and due to health problems and finding a partner on the ice, she was forced to leave the sport. Natalia and her daughter first moved to Michigan, where they found a partner and a new coach, and the couple even took second place in the prestigious competition Indy Challenge 2011. But during training, the partner stumbled and Vlada dropped her head on the ice, having received a concussion of the brain.

Then the mother and daughter returned to Virginia, but could not find a partner on the spot. Vlada began to practice solo skating, but after another injury to the spine, she was forced to leave the sport.

Today Vlada is studying at George Mason University. When joining her sporting achievements did not play any role.

Vladislav Rybka. Photo: Voice of America

“Do we wish that we were doing this at all? - Natalya argues. - Don't know. We didn't think about it then. Got involved. I always had to practice one more jump, prepare for one more competition. She's watching the Olympics now and I feel like she's in pain. At first, when I left figure skating, I didn’t even want to talk about it.”

Hockey in the USA is not a game for the poor

If the University has a sports team in a given sport, then a child’s sports participation in the USA can pay off if he receives a sports scholarship. But this is in a limited number of universities, in several sports, and if a young athlete is “seen” by a coach and has a place on the team.

My colleague, videographer Bruce Feder, spent $ 100 000 on his son's hockey lessons. When he was five, when he saw the hockey game, little Brendan caught fire.

“I walked into a sports store, saw how much it all cost, and immediately walked out,” Bruce recalls. But when a sports arena was built next to their house, which became the main training place for the team Washington capitolsthey surrendered.

At first, it was necessary to pay for participation in the league and inexpensive outfit, but every year expenses grew, to which trips to competitions and fees were added.

If the skates for the 7-year-old child cost 125 dollars, then for the 15-year-old player of the junior hockey league you had to give at least 600 dollars. The annual fee for participating in the league has grown to a half thousand dollars. As a member of the team, Brandon traveled throughout the United States, to Canada, Europe, and even spent a week in Yekaterinburg (Russia) at a sports camp. The cost of hockey rose to 20 000 dollars per year.

The sports load also increased - from 3-4 times a week at the age of 7-9 years to 5-6 times a week at 16 and older.

Bruce and his wife are middle class. “But we have very generous grandparents. A good support system,” he says. “Most of the parents of my son’s teammates are very wealthy. I'm talking millions."

Contrary to plans, Brendan did not receive an invitation to play in a high-level hockey team at an American university. Today, he is studying business at the University of Denver, where training costs 63 000 dollars a year. If he had gone to a modest local college, education would have cost 90 000 dollars for all four years of study.

Injuries in many, but not all, sports are common, and their consequences remain with a person for a long time, if not forever.

In an article titled "The Dark Side of Youth Sport," Professor Rutgers University, former chief psychologist of the US Olympic Committee, Ph.D. Shane Murphy quotes the results of a study that revealed that 695 surveyed young athletes 39% suffered from bulimia. Every year, four million young athletes fall into the Department of Traumatology. The amount of damage to the joints due to excessive load is increasing. Even among schoolchildren, steroid use is common. So, a study among middle school students in Massachusetts determined that 2.7% of them were sitting on steroids.

And then there are cases of sexual abuse of young athletes, such as in the case of the gymnastics team of Larry Nassar, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 150 girls and women, which lasted for decades.

Positive aspects of children's sports

However, both Natalya and Bruce say that sports helped children develop discipline and emotional stability, and made them more mature than young people their age. Psychiatrist Jim Taylor states that children who play sports have higher IQs and also “learn important life skills such as hard work, patience, persistence, and the ability to accept failure and losing.” In team sports, children develop social skills, and in individual sports, internal motivation and independence.

I myself went swimming as a child. From 7 to 13 years old I trained 3 hours a day, 6 times a week. This was back in the Soviet Union, and parents only paid for glasses. The team even gave us swimsuits. Fortunately, I chose a non-traumatic sport, which helped me significantly improve my health. Until I was seven, I often suffered from pneumonia. And when I went to the pool, I didn’t miss a day of school due to illness, only because I took part in competitions. Sport helped me develop self-confidence, independence, willpower and organizational skills - when 3 hours a day are spent just on training - and you still have to get to the pool, change clothes, dry your hair - then you do everything else much faster and more efficiently.

Children's sport plays a big social role. Gives guys—and girls, too, to be honest—a chance to release aggression, use excessive energy, and learn to interact with teammates. Even in individual sports there are relay races and joint trips to competitions. For children from poor families, this can be a social lift. For the rich - the opportunity to choose their own path, to find socialization outside of elite schools and family. It gives children self-confidence and new friends, as well as the joy of competition, the euphoria of victories and the ability to accept defeats and be happy for their partners.

Sports fashion for children - inspired by famous athletes and favorite teams - is much better than fashion for semi-criminal behavior or sitting for hours in front of a computer screen.

I hope that I will help my son to develop a love for sports, competitive spirit and an active lifestyle. There are no medals and sporting victories at international competitions among our priorities. In the meantime, I’m watching the Winter Olympics, realizing what the sacrifices were made by the participants, their parents and all those who did not make it into the national teams.

Column posted on blogs Ukrainian service Голоса America.

Published with permission of the author and publication.

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