What an amazing sight, watching their fingers fly so effortlessly over those cellphone keys. If only high school athletes’ legs were as eager to fly over athletic fields. With the arrival cellphones in our society, high school athletics is changing. Participation is down, teammates communicate differently and coaches are unsure of how to respond. To limit cellphone use in a culture that has become so dependent on the devices is not only unrealistic, but may not even be beneficial. Not limiting cellphone use, however, gives rise to a set of problems that could negatively affect high school athletics in the future.
PARTICIPATION IS DROPPING
Before the invention of cellphones, high school students faced a choice. Participate in a high school sport or activity or face endless hours of boredom throughout the year. Since cellphones have gone mainstream, however, boredom has become far less of an issue. In today’s world, students can easily pick up a cellphone, surf the Internet and send a text. If all else fails, games such as “Snake” or “Tetris” are a mere click away. For most high-schoolers, as long as there is a cellphone in hand, there is never a dull moment.
According to some coaches, there may be a connection between increasing cellphone use and decreases in participation on athletic teams at the high school level.
“A lot of high school coaches that I talk to are seeing a decline in the number of kids who are going out for sports,” said longtime Montezuma-Cortez High School coach, Bob Archibeque. “Technology has deterred people from getting involved in physical activities. It’s a whole lot easier to move your thumbs than it is to move your body.”
One prominent Montezuma-Cortez High School tennis player also sees a connection between cellphone use and decreasing participation in high school sports.
“Kids used to play sports to get to know people,” said No. 1 singles player Collin Cathey. “Now, we get peoples’ phone numbers, text them and get to know them. Texting has taken away the social aspect that kids used to get from sports.”
COMMUNICATION IS CHANGING
Along with affecting participation in high school sports, cellphone use has influenced the way teams communicate. In the pre-cellphone era, teammates spent long bus rides telling jokes, playing cards and interacting with one another. With the arrival of cellphones, athletes spend far more time texting, listening to music and watching movies. As a result, teammates engage each other less as they dive into what amounts to a technological abyss.
Montezuma-Cortez High School tennis coach Dan Wood shared the following story: “The (tennis) team was riding on a bus after a match in Delta. We had lost the match 4-3. Everybody on the bus was texting or on their phones. Nobody was really communicating. Eventually, I pulled over and talked to the group. I talked about everybody pulling their minds together and being present for one another. We started driving again, I looked back, and everybody was back on their phones.”
Responding to the assertion that cellphones might be negatively affecting the way teams communicate, Cathey was at first skeptical.
“Kids in my generation are getting so good at multi-tasking,” said Cathey. We may have a kid on the bus texting his girlfriend, but he’s also in touch with teammates.”
Later in the conversation however, Cathey admitted that cellphones can cause athletes to disengage from one another.
“My generation has a very hard time concentrating,” said Cathey. We’ll be sitting around having a team meeting and there will be one kid sitting, texting his girlfriend. Texting takes away from stuff like sports.”
NO OBVIOUS SOLUTION
While many coaches do recognize the potential effects of cellphone use on high school athletics, coming up with a solution is not easy.
“I don’t allow cellphone use at practice or in competitions. It’s important for athletes to be focused,” said Archibeque. “As far as trips go though, I do not have any rules regarding cellphone use.”
Woods echoed Archibeque’s comments, saying that although he limits cellphone use during practices and matches, he has no rules about it on trips.
Both coaches said cellphones provide great benefits; however, the negative effects do cause concern.
In the end, coaches appear content to depend on athletes to use modern technology responsibly. As technology continues to develop, it will be up to high school students to motivate themselves to participate in sports, engage teammates, and, at least sometimes, push the power buttons on their phones until the screen goes dark.