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Maine Aims to Ease Pressures on Student Athletes

Members of the Cony High Lady Rams from Augusta, Maine, huddle during a championship game against the Skowhegan Area High School Indians.
Rachel Jones, NPR
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Members of the Cony High Lady Rams from Augusta, Maine, huddle during a championship game against the Skowhegan Area High School Indians.

Proponents of a new Maine initiative hope to change the culture of competitiveness for student athletes, especially at the middle and high school level. Called "Sports Done Right," the project also urges coaches and parents to acknowledge negative behaviors surrounding school sports and make a public pledge to change them.

J. Duke Albanese, who heads the project through the University of Maine, says that too many schools in the state have patterned their athletic programs after high-powered college and professional models. He says that creates competitive stress that can lead to problems such as eating disorders, steroid use and parent-coach conflicts.

"We felt if we did not intervene, and did not think differently about sports, then we would continue down a road that would look like some of the problems that are happening all over the country," Albanese says.

Project officials interviewed hundreds of student athletes about their experiences. They heard stories about abusive coaches, and of young athletes struggling with the demands of elite, traveling teams and unreasonable parental expectations.

Those conversations resulted in a 45-page report that schools and communities can use as a blueprint. It suggests that parents need to work closely with schools to ensure ethical behavior, and it urges schools to adopt official policies about what's developmentally appropriate for young athletes. The report also highlights "out-of-bounds behavior," such as raucous spectators and parents who disrespect coaches, officials and opposing teams.

This story was produced by Anne Hawke and Gisele Grayson.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Jones
Rachel Jones reports on education, social policy, and welfare reform issues at NPR. She has also covered children’s health and development, as well as well as racial disparities in health care.