According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 8 million high school students participated in school athletics in the 2011-2012 school year.
The number of high school athletes has drastically increased over the years, especially since Title IX took effect back in 1971, allowing girls to participate more fully in sports. The number of student athletes will continue to increase each year.
So why are students so eager to join sports? How does it change their high school experience?
* Being on a team
Playing a sport means being a part of a team. When you're on a team you are a part of something bigger than yourself. Each member on a team has different strengths, and as you get to know your teammates through an entire season, you learn about what they bring to the team. You can come from completely different backgrounds, have different friends, but in the end you're all working toward a common goal.
"After five months of training together, my wrestling team is practically a family; my teammates become brothers to me," says Christian Kodele, a senior at Clearfield High School who participates in wrestling as well as cross country.
It's important to trust your teammates so that you can succeed at your sport. Playing a sport and being on a team brings a sense of belonging, trust and friendship.
* Setting goals
With sports comes goal setting, an important life skill everyone needs. Whether it is winning state, becoming a better team, or just personally improving, an athlete can benefit from making goals.
Coaches push you to be the best player you can be and the harder you work, the better you become. Practice is the place where you can take your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. Playing a sport teaches you self discipline and goal setting.
* Motivation to become a better student
To be eligible to participate in high school sports, there are certain academic requirements a student must meet and standards one must maintain. You have to maintain a certain GPA and have good attendance as well as citizenship. It's good motivation to get things done and be responsible. It allows you to be more focused at school, so that you can do your best on game day. Also, you have to be a good person on and off the field because you are representing your team.
* Stress relief
Most importantly students participate in school sports because they're fun. When you spend months training with teammates, you make some really great friends. You can have a really bad day at school and relieve your stress at practice. When you're in a game it's like you're in a different world and nothing else matters, you just live in that moment and play at your best level.
"It feels great to go exercise while having fun with your friends and working towards something you know who you love doing," says Caity Nielsen, a junior at Bonneville High School who plays basketball and golf.
The recommendation is that teenagers get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day to maintain good health. Playing sports gives you this opportunity through practice and game days. Conditioning is a big part of playing sports and can help you to stay in shape. Not only are sports good for your physical health, but they also help you mentally. You learn sportsmanship and a good attitude when playing on a team.
Sports are competitive and they can inspire you to become a better athlete.
Zach Johnstun is a senior at St. Joseph Catholic High School who has participated in basketball, cross country, and track and field since his freshman year.
"Sports feed my competitive side, but above all sports allow me to better myself," he says. "My competitiveness allows me to gather initiative so I can improve my game and beat my opponent."
If your team knows they're up against tough competition, everyone gets motivated to work harder.
If you play a sport that you're very passionate about, there is a chance you can continue to play in college, if you're good enough. The best part about this is that a college can pay you to come play on their team by giving you a sports scholarship. This can cover some of your college fees or all of them depending on how skilled you are. Playing a sport in college gives you the opportunity to take your athletic talent to the next level.
You only have four years to make high school a memorable experience and playing sports is a great way to take advantage of the time you have. Athletics brings a sense of belonging, friendship, stress relief and motivation to become a better athlete as well as a better student.
Miranda Romero is a senior at St. Joseph Catholic High School. She loves volleyball, cheerleading, and track and field. Contact her at email@example.com.