What do when ‘it’s not fun anymore’

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Kids playing little league baseball in Hawaii

Earlier this month I came across a column published by the Washington Post where the author explained her thoughts on a startling statistic. According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. Along with its findings, NAYS stated the reason for this exodus having to do with the fact that “it’s just not fun anymore.”

In her column in the Washington Post, Julianna W. Miner shared her thoughts on why she believes this reasoning to be true: Sports aren’t designed to be fun anymore, our culture no longer supports older kids playing for the fun of it, there is a clear push for kids to specialize, there is a cost to being competitive, and “it’s just the age.”

I can agree that 13 is a weird age. We are at our most vulnerable and most influential. Even at the high school level it’s noticeable that our peers influence our decisions from whether to go to class, to take AP or honors level academic courses or try out for a sports team.

The idea of needing to specialize influenced almost all of Miner’s points. When I was in middle school and high school, the biggest reason for teammates quitting was the simple fact that they were burnt out. They weren’t playing for the love of the game anymore. The feeling of needing to specialize is crazy these days. Kids from a young age are taught that if they want to be the best soccer player in the world, then all their focus needs to be on soccer.

The need to specialize and be the best, when we can’t all be the best, creates a negative environment around sports. It’s an environment that we need to actively work to remove. Participating in other sports and other activities can be helpful. Basketball can teach soccer players better ball movement since it’s a smaller playing area. Track can teach athletes how to run properly as well as build speed and endurance. Dedication and practice can come in multiple ways, and sometimes getting involved in other activities can help people discover that they have been chasing the wrong passion.

The LeBron James’ and Lionel Messis of the world show us that if we dedicate our time and work hard that we have the potential to be the best. But at the same time they teach us that we need to love it. The love for whatever it is that we do is what makes all the work we put in worthwhile. Even if you don’t become the next Tom Brady, your love for football doesn’t change.

Where I feel Miner missed the mark are her thoughts on competition. Growing up I had one of those dads who was not about that participation trophy life. If he had to pay for it, I wasn’t getting one. I grew up when the idea of participation trophies came to life, and they are now in full swing.

I believe being awarded for participation is one of the reasons kids are quitting. They don’t understand the idea of competition. It’s not that things have gotten too competitive. We are setting athletes up for failure if we teach them from their first season that everyone gets rewarded.

If the kid who scored the most goals and the kid who scored no goals get the same reward at the end of the season, what is that teaching the kid who scored no goals about hard work? How are we preparing them for not making the school team? It’s these kids who are hanging up their jerseys when the going gets tough.

Sports not only offer the start of a healthy lifestyle, it provides kids with life skills. From day one participants learn teamwork and dedication. They experience success and see what got them there. They experience failure and learn that it will only make them stronger.

I’m not sure why 70 percent of 13-year-olds are saying so long to sports but we need to find a way to change it.

To read Miner’s column visit, washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/06/01/why-70-percent-of-kids-quit-sports-by-age-13.

Trying to understand what should be obvious

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Rock Springs High School senior guard Demetrius Davenport scored nine points for the Tigers in their season finale. Rock Springs High School is one of three high schools located in Sweetwater County in southwest Wyoming.

In my nine months of living in Wyoming, there has been more than one occasion where I’ve sat and tried to make sense of something. Usually it requires me asking a local, but that is completely understandable when you move somewhere new.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about sports is the fact that they are universal. There aren’t many differences from place to place besides maybe style of play, so one can only imagine my surprise when I experienced my first “I don’t understand sports moment.”

I’m going to call this time of year “all-star season.” The 2016 Shrine Bowl wrapped up Saturday, and the Wyoming vs. Montana All-Star basketball game was a few days prior. July’s lineup features the basketball and volleyball all-star games.

Why are these games being played at the onset of a new school year? Why are these games being played months after seasons were wrapped up?

I have always viewed all-star games as an athlete’s final opportunity or even extra opportunity to impress a college scout. That can’t happen when these athletes, all seniors, have already graduated and colleges across the country have already set next season’s rosters.

Regardless of the sport, an athlete’s junior year of high school is of the utmost importance. The summer prior to senior year provides the last opportunity to attend college camps. Yes, it’s not out of the ordinary for the opportunity to have a college career present itself in senior year, but you are lying to yourself if you think coaches haven’t had their ideal lineups on paper prior.

In terms of football, I understand weather is a big issue, but the ideal time to get these guys out there putting their full skills on display would be right after the season ends. They are still in football shape and a week after state finals should still be playable weather. I know these kids aren’t afraid of a little snow. Basketball and volleyball are completely different. Weather cannot be used as an excuse.

Looking into it, I understand that coming up with the rosters and coaching staffs take time, but four and eight months later, that is excessive. The best argument I can come up with for summer schedules is the need for these athletes to practice with their all-star teams, which means traveling. Summer is then the only time there is an ample amount of time and no school to work around.

I’ve read countless articles stating that Wyoming athletes have some of the hardest times getting recruited. There are multiple theories on why, but I think late all-star games are an influence. College coaches can arrange to attend an all-star game and see the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the kids from each class that have the highest chance of moving on to the next level.

If I sat on the Wyoming High School Activities Association board, I would try and find a way to move these games into the school year. From there send out invitations to college coaches at all levels and tell them to check it out. June and July are just too late. The goal should be to give Wyoming athletes every opportunity possible to earn a college scholarship if that is what they are striving for. Otherwise all-star games are just an opportunity to suit up one last time.

War of the continents

Unless you are an avid soccer fan or read the sports headlines on your chosen internet browsers newsfeed, you probably had zero idea that two of the biggest sports events are happening this month.

If I already have you racking your brain, I will give you a hint – they’re international events, and no, it’s no the Olympics. For a great portion of the world the Olympics are on the back burner.

Last week the Copa America kicked off and Friday is the 2016 European Championship. Who will be crowned the Americas and Europe’s finest?

COPA AMERICA

Not as well known as the Union of European Football Associations’ Euro, the Copa America is soccer’s oldest international competition. Americans should tune in because the United States men’s national team is playing in it. Also, for the first time in the tournament’s 100-year history, it’s being hosted outside of South America and on U.S. soil.

The U.S. men’s team has much riding on its performance. After losing its tournament opener to Columbia, the Americans faced a must-win situation against Costa Rica on Tuesday. Fortunately the team figured out how to make it work despite the doubts and won 4-0. Now just a win against Paraguay on Saturday stands in the way of the United States making the quarterfinals. Advancement to the quarterfinals is necessary for this U.S. team that has time and time again failed to impress.

But will making the quarterfinals be good enough? Prior to the win against the Ticos, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati suggested that U.S. men’s head coach Jurgen Klinsmann could be out of a job if the team didn’t start winning.

The U.S. doesn’t stand a chance to win it all, but considering we won’t be seeing the U.S. men’s team in the Olympics, a strong Copa performance is a must.

Brazil would have been my favorite if it wasn’t playing without half of its starting lineup. The team is saving its weapons in hopes of earning an Olympic win at home in August.

Lia’s Prediction: Columbia. The Columbians impressed me so much during the 2014 World Cup they became my favorite to win it all. At that point in time that may have been eager considering how young the team was, but not they are older and more experienced. Columbia’s dominance in the group stage is a definite indication it has what it takes to compete with favorites Argentina and Uruguay.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP

The sports elite lay claim to the Euro. As much as I am beyond excited for the tournament opener Friday afternoon, I am also wary of potential disaster. The tournament is on French soil, and since last year’s Paris attacks, security levels have been at an all-time high.

With French Prime Minister Manuel Valls saying Europe is at war following the attacks in Paris and Brussels, many have pushed for the cancellation of the tournament. With thousands of rowdy fans packing into stadiums day after day for the next month, let’s hope nothing can get past security.

Lia’s prediction: Germany. The French are one of the favorites to win it all. Normally they blow it at world tournaments, but they are incredibly successful at home having won every contest on home soil in the last century. Spain is the reigning champion, but after a 2014 World Cup performance the Spaniards would like to forget and a rocky qualifying road, I don’t have faith in them to take Euro for a third time in a row.

The Germans are the kings of major tournaments and they have only gotten stronger following their 2014 World Cup dominance. The only part of their lineup that draws questions for me is their front line, but I know they have the personnel who will rise to the occasion.

Who will get the Ring?

It was pretty obvious to basketball fans around the country that the 2016 NBA Finals would be a rematch between the 2015 NBA finalists. Despite firing former head coach David Blatt midway through the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers were already well on their way to being named the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. The Golden State Warriors were dubbed to make a repeat visit since the fourth game of the regular season. Even though head coach Steve Kerr wasn’t on the sidelines for the first 43 games of the season, his team worked its way to a 39-4 start.

Golden State was named champion after six games in 2015, but don’t expect the 2016 series to go down the same way.

CAVALIERS

The 2016 Cleveland team is not the same team the Warriors beat a year ago. In 2015, the Cavaliers were playing without two of their stars: Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. Love was knocked out in the first round of the playoffs with a dislocated shoulder. Irving’s season came to a close after suffering a broken kneecap in Game 1 of the finals.

The outcome of the 2016 finals will be greatly dictated by these two stars’ performances. LeBron James put up a fight with a much weaker support staff last year, and it still took the Warriors six games to take them down. Love and Irving should add difficulty to the Warriors looking to cap their best season in history.

In the two regular-season matchups against Golden State, Love and Irving were ineffective, but they have risen to the occasion this postseason.

These two really need to excel in defense. James is the only true two-way player for the Cavs and defensively is one surefire way that the Cavaliers could manage a win. With a strong defense, Oklahoma City was able to push Golden State like no way before.

Cleveland will have to play defense like we haven’t seen this season. In the playoffs alone, with Irving on the court Cleveland is surrendering 107 points per 100 possessions. Love isn’t much better with 105.6 points per 100 possessions. The one thing Love and Irving confidently provide are buckets on the other end of the floor, but will it be enough?

J.R. Smith and Channing Frye add a little to the Cleveland lineup. Frye could be just the wrinkle needed if he can continue his dominance from beyond the arc. Smith has the ability to provide on the defensive front, having shown improvement all season. He has also proven he can get the job done offensively and is another player currently hot from the 3. Cleveland holds the record for most 3-pointers in a game both playoff and regular games. Threes could prove to be the secret against an equally hot 3-pointer team in Golden State.

WARRIORS

Golden State seems to be peaking at the right time. That might seem like a crazy statement for a team that is 73-9, but it’s not. The team faced its toughest obstacle in the Western Conference final. The playoffs have been a rough time for the defending champions that have included injuries, potential suspensions, overcoming an improbable deficit. If you ask me, they are finally hitting their stride.

The key to the Warriors pulling off the greatest season in NBA history will be to stay healthy and to avoid pushing the limits. Stephen Curry’s ankle injury followed by a knee injury was the first bump in the road. People questioned the Warriors’ ability to get things done without the two-time MVP, but they got it done time and time again, and in Game 7 against Oklahoma, Curry finally started to look himself again.

One way the Cavaliers could pull off a win would be to push Golden State’s Draymond Green. Following the incident with Oklahoma’ Steven Adams in the last round, Green is just one flagrant foul or two technical fouls way from suffering a one-game suspension. If that happens, the timing could prove fatal to the Warriors. Klay Thompson is another Golden State player who can be easily drawn into foul trouble if played correctly.

Golden State beat Cleveland in both regular-season matchups, including the dominating Jan. 18 132-98.

PREDICTION: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS IN SEVEN

I think it would be very bad judgment on my part to bet against Golden State again. I was definitely a part of the majority when I predicted Oklahoma City would deliver Golden State’s season conclusion. A 3-1 deficit is extremely hard to overcome. But the Warriors hushed everyone’s doubts when they became just the third team in history to come out on top in a conference final after such a deficit.

Despite the Cavaliers having rest on their side, a complete week at that, Golden State is on a high right now. Perhaps being tested by Oklahoma was the best thing that could have happened to the Warriors. If there was any sense of underestimating their opponents in the conference final, the Warriors won’t make that mistake again. They’ve figured out how they need to play and to what level in order to win the matchup.

Golden State will be Cleveland’s first true opponent. The West is still stronger than the East, and going 12-2 to make the finals means nothing when it was up against opponents that were overall just happy to make it to that point, such as the Pistons, Hawks and Raptors.

The Cavaliers will put up a strong fight, but it won’t be enough. Be prepared for the most entertaining matchup of the postseason.

NBA FINAL FUN FACTS

1. The year 2016 is the first time in history that the coaches standing on the sideline during the finals were not the coaches on the sideline to start the season.

2. If Cleveland wins, it will be the city’s first sports championship since 1964.

3. This is James’ sixth consecutive year to play in the NBA Finals.

4. The University of Arizona has the most ties to the finals out of all other American universities. Seven players and coaches have suited up in a Wildcats uniform.

5. With a win, the Golden State team will have the same number of rings as James, who is in search of his third.