Remember those endless days of youth when we were young and wild?

Remember when the sun was shining, the world was our oyster, and we were out gallivanting like rapscallions off to see another tutor?

Remember when life came to a complete and utter standstill, traffic stopped, work forces went on strike, and sport just imploded over the head of a month of exams?

God, weren’t we young and bold?  Didn’t we make some great memories to look back on?

I don’t remember any of that.

I don’t remember coming home from school and locking myself in a room for another seven hours to stare at a cycle of books.  I don’t remember anyone suggesting that was even possible, let alone healthy.

I don’t remember six and a half hours of school being so inept that going home was just the start of a whole new day of private tutors and practice tests.

What’s worse is that I don’t think any other adult remembers those days either.  They didn’t exist.  And yet kids now are subjected to a tirade of studious nonsense that none of the high fliers of our generation or generations before would even have pondered.

What are schools doing so wrong that their best students have to go home and double their work?  They’re not doing anything wrong but people won’t accept that  This new pseudo-academic culture is just an overreaction to something men and women have all gone through before.  There’s nothing new here.  This idea of exams isn’t revolutionary and the vast majority of adults have come through that same system.  And they haven’t pent themselves up with the pressure of it all either.

Look, I get it.  We want the best for our children, we want them to excel in school, give them the best possible opportunity of advancing in life with qualifications we have or- maybe even more pertinently – qualifications we didn’t have the chance to achieve ourselves.  Some of us want better for our children (by the way, Mammy, I don’t have any, I’m just speaking generally, so relax).

We all got our heads down when we had to.  We all know that – no matter how much it’s preached that exams aren’t a case of life and death – they’re still damn important.

No one will ever scoff at anyone worrying about a test, it’s only human nature after all but there needs to be an element of let’s get real as well.  There needs to be an element of reality – a heavy dose of it – that these questions and answers aren’t actually life and death.  And that, actually – in reality – your best chance at excelling at your studies is not to overhype them, not to overload the work, and not to give up on everything else that’s going on and going good in your world.

If you sing, keep singing.  If you run, keep running.  If you play football, keep playing.

There are 24 hours in a day – I didn’t get that by not doing my studies – and, wait to be further amazed, if you’re sleeping for nine hours a night – which is excessive – then you’re giving yourself 15 hours to work with.  15!

How are two miserly hours of playing football or going out running – two hours tops – going to really affect your ability to prepare for an exam?  Really?

But the culture nowadays is that everything else outside of a text book is dropped like a bad habit to maximise your study time.

You can no longer go to an hour-long training session because, by the time you get back, it might only leave you with 13 hours to work with.  Heaven forbid.  If you take dinner and breakfast out of that, maybe travelling to and from school, how in under God would 11 hours a day ever be enough to concentrate properly on getting top grades?

Football fields up and down the city are emptying as we’re reaching the summer.

Streets are deserted and teenagers are no longer teenagers.

They’re steering a ship that they’re told will either make them or break them.

And I’m not trying to poke fun at the pressure youngsters are under nowadays, more trying to address it head on instead of hiding from the fact that this panic is a real issue.

Whatever happened to the studies which smarter people than me conducted showing factually why exercise was better for mental health?  Whatever happened to the notion that a nice distraction, a bit of physical exertion, even a bit of socialising worked a dream for pent up stress and worry?

Whatever happened to fresh air for God’s sake?

Athletes are falling by the wayside every year because we’re told that you have to choose.  We’re told that you can’t possibly be a top sportsman with top grades when it has been done before and will continue to be done in the future.

And why is that I wonder?  Why is it that giving yourself a break from studying works out so well?  Why is it that this dreaded anti-results poison they call sport not affecting some students’ grades?

I don’t know, maybe because they’re not even correlated.  They aren’t even remotely related – well, apart from the odd fitness boost and, the odd physical release, things that might actually assist with studying in the long run.

Taking two hours out of your day three times a week to keep up with this second rate interference of sport will have no bearing on whether or not Johnny passes everything or he flunks them all.

Some people have lost sight and underestimate the ability of teenagers to think for themselves.  Instead, they’re told they can’t be here or there, they can’t do this and that and they’re sat in front of another book, forced to digest it all.

Perhaps we’ve lost sight about what this whole charade is about as well.  I’d like to think that, when I look back on my life when I’m older, there’ll be a collection of memories to smile over.  There’ll be a point that I scored – never say never – or a laugh that I shared, maybe even an Aston Villa victory enjoyed somewhere along the way as well.  What I wouldn’t want is a gaping hole of nothing but studying, studying, studying.  What I don’t want is for others to stop living for fear of how things might pan out a few years down the line.

Sacrifice a day before an exam.  Sacrifice plenty of hours surely in the build up and help a better future.  But don’t close off everything in your life for two or three full months just to tee up something you can see a hint of on the horizon.

You can study and you can play.  Anyone who says you can’t is lying.  No-one’s working 14 or 15 hours flat out.  If they are, it’s pointless.  A lot of it will have long since stopped going in.

So stop treating an infinitesimally small fraction of your life as the be all and end all.  Relax.

Take it from me: I did pretty well in my exams and yet somehow I’ve still managed to wind up cursing my luck as a frustrated journalist rotting away in the Derry News.  I did something wrong somewhere but it wasn’t in my exams.

And it wasn’t playing football either.

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