Athletes and risk-taking behaviors

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Are athletes more likely than non-athletes to engage in risk-taking behaviors? If you watch the news these days, you might think so. While it's very difficult to determine if there really are any significant personality differences between athletes and non-athletes, many people wonder if athletes have a different mindset, prompting them to take more chances in life.

One theory suggests that athletes, because of their visibility and popularity, are the target of more media stories, and consequently receive more attention when they get into trouble. This position is difficult to defend because people are more likely to talk about a famous athlete who gets into trouble than they are to talk about a common citizen who may commit the very same crime (or a worse one). These stories about athletes may become even more amplified when you consider the many media outlets today, and it seems most of them are looking for sensational breaking news.

On the other hand, my personal experience has shown me that people who engage in athletics are often indoctrinated from a very early age to show "no fear," "never quit," and "always give 110 percent." Does this way of thinking contribute to risk- taking behavior? Add in creativity (another common trait in athletes) and you can certainly make a case that athletes may be more likely than non-athletes to take chances in life.

My overall impression of this issue is that athletes may be a little more likely to engage in risky behaviors, but it is probably not a significant difference. It's still very important that parents discuss with their children appropriate and inappropriate behaviors outside of sports. For example, aggression may be helpful when trying to fight past an opponent to score a touchdown or make a goal, but trying to resolve a conflict with aggressive behavior isn't appropriate.

When you talk to your child about the differences between sports and life, especially about appropriate behaviors on and off the playing field, please consider the following suggestions:

• While skills such as blocking, shoving, and sometimes even running people over work well in sports, rarely are these behaviors acceptable anywhere else. Some kids find that while their athletic abilities serve them well on the field, those skills aren't as useful outside of sports as social skills and the ability to communiate. In other words, pushing kids around doesn't solve anything.

• When news about athletes in trouble is reported in the media, sit down and talk about these stories with your child. If an athlete is found guilty of a crime, emphasize that being a sports celebrity does not give anyone a free pass to break the law.

• If your child is proud of his or her accomplishments on the field, encourage that same confidence in all areas of life. Often, aggression follows frustration. People who are confident in their abilities tend to be less frustrated, and therefore less likely to become aggressive. People who are less aggressive are typically open-minded, friendly, and creative -- all mindsets that help with social behavior.

It's probably unlikely that athletes will stop getting into trouble, so be sure to prepare for the next big story. Talking to your child early and often about risk-taking behaviors (and the potential consequences) may prevent future problems.