Too Much Too Soon

As sport at the top level moves ever further from its original and best purpose-recreation-the rewards of success grow higher. And as many young stars live their lives in reverse, from early fulfilment to disillusion and emptiness, the price increases too. Hingis depicted the modern morality tale of a child barely able to run, but holding a racket and knocking a ball about. The young prodigy, pre puberty, was already drilled beyond excellence. Hingis won the French Junior title aged 12, and at 16, she was all smiles having won the Wimbledon title in 1997, and being world number 1. However, aged 19 she illustrates the effects of too much pressure, when the young princess throws tantrums and crumbles in the French final to Steffi Graf. She disputed a line call beyond reason and served underarm, displaying her mental failure. This all indicates the problem of too much too young. Jennifer Capriati was a textbook case of tennis burnout for which fellow Americans Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger had provided the template. At 13, she was a six-million-dollar girl, showered with endorsement contracts even before she played her first professional match in March 1990. In 1991, she became the youngest Wimbledon semi-finalist in history at the age of 15. But within two years Capriati had tired of the game and was arrested for shoplifting and for possession of marijuana. At 18, when most teenagers are just starting out in life, Capriati had become the ultimate role model for failure.
Let’s hope someone as talented as Amir Kahn doesn’t head down the same path. The 19- year-old Olympic medal-winning boxer announced in March that he was to add another string to his bow by publishing his life story, A Boy from Bolton, in a deal said to be worth pounds £500,000. His life is just beginning, why bring out an autobiography now? The same is to be said for Wayne Rooney. The prodigious young talent that Everton were quietly grooming for stardom all-too-quickly became a household name after his sensational last-minute winner put paid to Arsenal’s 30-match unbeaten run and made Wayne Rooney both the youngest Everton goal scorer and youngest player to score in the Premiership — an honour he stole from Michael Owen. His high-money move to Manchester Utd was sensational for someone his age. Yet, his past temperament indicated that he was perhaps not mature enough to be as big as a star as he was made out to be. Our young sporting heroes need to be protected from both physical injuries and mental injuries, instead of being targeted by advertisers as `the next best thing`. Such attention puts too much pressure on their careers, and their talent may not resultantly be fulfilled.

Gemma Casey


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