Absurd expectations placed on young athletes the new norm of the modern era

    The ultimate dream for any sportsperson is to play professionally at the very top and aspire to be the best.

    Some are well-equipped to start their careers off successfully at a young age.

    Unfortunately, the weight of expectation is too much of a burden for others.

    We live in a sporting era where teams and coaches are placing more faith in potential rather than experience which is all well and good, as long as they are aware of the consequences that come with it.

    The most recent example involves 23-year-old rookie quarterback Zach Wilson from the New York Jets.

    The Jets have had their best season in years and have been lurking around for a rare playoff berth. Wilson’s disappointing performances have seen his own fans turn against him, with Friday night being the tip of the iceberg as he was booed during play and subbed off midway through.

    The high expectations of him are valid since he was picked at No.2, but that doesn’t make him perfect by any means.

    I understand that sport is a results-based business with millions and billions of dollars at stake, but it is crucial to keep supporting young athletes through difficult periods and need to allow time for growth and development.

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    Everyone is so caught up in discovering the next young generational talent for the present moment and not giving rookies the fair opportunity to make mistakes and learn from their experiences.

    Not all players can become the next Patrick Mahomes. He was also 23 when he burst onto the scene and won the league MVP in his starting debut season, and is already considered one of the best quarterbacks of his generation.

    Trevor Lawrence, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson have all exceeded expectations with little experience, but players like Wilson, Sam Darnold, and Daniel Jones have not had time to polish their games.

    You just need to look back on Tom Brady’s rookie year to understand that patience is a virtue when it comes to sports. Considered the greatest NFL player of all time, Brady worked hard in his first year to bulk up physically and improve his physique which has led him to stardom.

    What can such a lack of confidence do for an up-and-coming player like Wilson? It can be detrimental if they don’t have strong personnel and mentality, leading to a potential path of their careers crumbling very quickly without the right support groups around them.

    Most draft picks are more likely to have represented a top-of-the-range college that teaches athletes all of the necessary skills and knowledge required.

    However, when it comes to crunch time on the big stage with nothing going right, these youngsters are not equipped to deal with those extra pressures as it is something that cannot be taught.

    Compare that to the roundball game of football. It is ironic that a lot of the best players in the world have had to build their way up from nothing and demonstrate real fortitude.

    Two of the greatest players of all time, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, had to overcome their own personal battles of living below the poverty line and learn to play on the streets with no college or university to guide them through life.

    (Photo by Marvin Ibo Guengoer – GES Sportfoto/Getty Images)

    Despite both having relatively slow starts to their careers, they were strong enough to grow and develop into incredible superstars that transformed the game for the better. 

    What would history have looked like if they were benched or not given another chance to prove themselves after a few poor performances?

    The rapid rise of Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland are two perfect examples of athletes thriving so early on in their careers which has led to even more ridiculous expectations of other talents replicating the near impossible. 

    These jaw-dropping stats comparing Mbappé to Messi and Ronaldo shows why such high expectations are placed on this upcoming generation. 

    At the age of 19:

    Club goals:
    Mbappé – 52
Messi – 26
    Ronaldo – 17

    International goals:
    Mbappé – 9
    Ronaldo – 7
    Messi – 4

    Champions League goals:
    Mbappé – 10
Messi – 2
    Ronaldo – 0

    Young athletes receiving such strong belief and trust from the people around them including supporters can act as a positive at the same time.

    Take Collingwood rising star Nick Daicos, for example.

    The 19-year-old has had so much hype built around him due to the success of his older brother Josh and the legendary status of his father, Peter Daicos.

    Comparisons can be very daunting for any inexperienced athlete coming through, but Nick used it as inspiration to follow in both of their footsteps and create his own piece of history which he has done in his first year.

    In contrast, comparisons can also be unhealthy with the NBA phenomenon of Zion Williamson being compared to LeBron James acting as an unfair point of judgement. Injuries have taken their toll on the New Orleans Pelicans star, but he should only be compared to his own potential and be given the time he deserves.

    (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

    Even individual sports such as tennis have witnessed a rise in the amount of criticism directed at young players such as Britain’s Emma Raducanu. People realised her potential when she unexpectedly won the US Open a couple of years ago and since then, she has not been able to produce those same high-level performances due to the growing scrutiny and pressure around her.

    The same can be said about Naomi Osaka, who has openly admitted to having her mental health impacted by the media and the high expectations set.

    At the end of the day, sport is a passion for many fans around the globe, but what is also true is the fact that these young athletes are just human beings.

    Time and development are so important to grow into the final end product that everyone expects of them. Give them that chance, or don’t take the risk on them.

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