Attempting to stay in bounds

It has been nearly a month since Colin Kaepernick was first noticed for sitting out the national anthem. Many thought that his gesture and stance would be talked about for a few days and like many other things would fade. But Kaepernick’s movement has done everything but that.

INDIANA FEVER

On Wednesday, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever became the first professional sports team to take on the protest. Prior to its playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, which eventually won the game, the entire team took a knee and linked arms during the national anthem. They were even joined by two Mercury players Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone.

This isn’t the first time that a WNBA team has spoken out either. In July, prior to Kaepernick, players for the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, Fever and Mercury players wore T-shirts with messages seeking change following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

TEXAS YOUTH FOOTBALL TEAM

The movement has gained many supporters at the high school and youth level. Unfortunately these athletes aren’t immune to the backlash that comes with being involved in such a high-profile protest.

A youth football team is receiving death threats after deciding as a team to take a knee prior to a game on Sept. 11 in Beaumont, Texas. The decision to protest was brought up by the children ages 11-12 and was supported by the coaches and parents. According to a mother whose son is on the team, online comments have said their “coaches and players should be lynched. They should have burned in 9/11. There are people who are saying the n-word.”

Some say the kids don’t know what they are kneeling for, but these kids aren’t blind to what is going on around the country.

On Tuesday, Kaepernick came out saying that he has received death threats.

“To me, if something like that were to happen, you’ve proved my point and it will be loud and clear for everyone why it happened and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now,” Kaepernick said. “Granted, I don’t want that to happen, but that’s the realization of what could happen, and I knew there were other things that came along with this when I first stood up and spoke about it. That’s not something I haven’t thought about.”

How is this right? You may not agree with Kaepernick’s and others motives or methods, but when is it ever OK to threaten someone’s life because of it? People making death threats to Kaepernick and anyone else who have knelt in support of him are only fueling the fire.

CAM NEWTON

During a press conference Wednesday night, the Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fielded questions regarding racial issues despite normally being hesitant. His comments came a day after the fatal shooting of Keith L. Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, which sparked protests throughout the city.

“We all have to hold each other accountable,” Newton said. “I’m a firm believer of justice. I’m a firm believer of doing the right thing. And I can’t repeat it enough of just holding people accountable. … I am not happy with what or how the justice has been kind of dealt with over the years.”

Newton has not joined the Kaepernick movement, but he is the latest NFL player to come forward and make a statement regarding the need for change. During the press conference he asked the same question that Kaepernick did in one of his first interviews: how do police on a leave of absence still get paid?

The reigning NFL MVP has commented on social issues before and knows the backlash that often comes with it. He called the place that he stands along with many other athletes a lose-lose.

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Mental toughness brings home the gold

What makes an Olympic athlete? Of course amazing athletic talent, but one thing I think many fail to acknowledge is the extreme level of mental toughness that is required. Athletic talent can only take one so far. It’s the mental game that takes someone all the way.

Following a fifth-place finish in the men’s gymnastics team all-around, team member Alex Naddour told NBC, “Fifth in the world. It’s still pretty good.” Overall the team was disappointed in their finish.

The U.S. men’s Olympic gymnastics team is a perfect example of mental toughness. After finishing fifth at the 2012 London Games, the men felt they had much to prove in Rio. Unfortunately mistakes cost the team from making the medal stand, and they placed fifth once again.

Although disappointed, there was still plenty of gymnastics left, and the men’s mental toughness would decide how the remainder of the games would go. Two nights after the team all-around, team captain Chris Brooks and Sam Mikulak returned to the arena for the men’s individual all-around, where they finished 14th and seventh, respectively, out of a field of 24. The individual event finals still remain. There really is a lot of gymnastics left.

Watching the Olympics one can see the mental toughness of these athletes in every event. In volleyball a team gives up a set — will players be strong enough to win it back or will they let the woes of one set determine the overall outcome?

The pool has been another great avenue for mental toughness. America’s Missy Franklin, a breakout star in 2012, almost didn’t make the team for Rio, and many don’t have high expectations for her now that she is there. But despite a rough last three years in the pool, Franklin continues to be praised for her steadfast positivity, and she won’t be leaving the games empty-handed. She helped the women’s 4×200-meter relay team win gold and has a chance of making the podium in the 200-meter backstroke.

For as long as these athletes have been molding and perfecting their athletic talents, they have been doing the same to their brains. Obsession. It’s a word that holds a negative connotation, but it is what is required to make the Olympic stage. Mental toughness starts with the ability to wake up every morning and not skip a workout, knowing that if you do you are taking a step away from accomplishing your dream.

That mental toughness continues to grow with every competition. Not all of these Olympians were stars straight out of the gate. Some of them failed time and time again, but unlike some who turned their backs on the sport thinking they didn’t have the talent, Olympians persevere.

We can see this mental toughness with great athletes around the world, and it is this mental toughness that professional athlete hopefuls should be taking note of. If you can’t drop the baton in the 4×100-meter relay and get back on the track to win the 200-meter dash, the Olympics are not for you.

“Never give up,” is a saying used in all aspects of life, but sports have adopted it as their own moniker. We learn the greatest perseverance through sports. There is always going to be a winner and a loser, but what are you willing to give up, what are you willing to do, to ensure that winning is a possibility?

Just take it from the dominant Simone Biles.

“If you ever have a mistake, you try to just kind of forget about it because if you carry that with you for the rest of the routine then the rest of your routine might not go as planned,” she said. “So you just kind of shake it off and you just continue your routine like you didn’t fall.”

Play like a girl

Earlier this month I learned that 70-percent of kids are quitting sports by age 13. It’s a startling statistic but what I learned earlier this week is even more alarming. Of that original 70 percent, 47 percent are girls.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. And according to a survey sponsored by Always, by age 17, more than half of the girls, 51 percent, will have quit sports. More than 1,000 girls ages of 16 to 24 participated.

In last week’s column, I delved into the idea that sports just aren’t “fun anymore.” But with girls there seems to be a different driving factor. According to the Always survey, seven out of 10 girls quit sports during puberty because they felt like they didn’t belong. Another 67 percent said they felt society doesn’t encourage girls to play sports.

Not sure if you’ve heard of the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always, but it is these numbers that led to its creation. In the last year, Always has published multiple videos with the hope of inspiring girls to stay in the game. That is definitely something I can rally around.

No one can deny the benefits of sports in the lives of youth. The health benefits are just the beginning. Sports have the ability to teach us skills that can be used throughout the rest of our lives. With girls participating in sports at a lower rate than boys, they are missing out.

Confidence is the No. 1 thing that comes to mind when I think of what sports can offer all kids, but especially girls who deal with dramatic drops in confidence levels around puberty. Confidence is vital as we grow up, leave home and enter the workforce. Confidence is what we need in order to know our worth. One fact that has come about in trying to understand the gender pay gap is that women oftentimes underestimate their self worth. We are willing to work for less and we ask for less than men wanting the same position with the same skill set.

Learning to compete is another skill that sports teach. Oftentimes, girls are pushed away from competitive atmospheres because they aren’t deemed “ladylike.” Without a positive competitive atmosphere, girls inadvertently learn to feel guilty when their success outshines someone else’s. Once again this doesn’t help in the professional world where women continue to be outnumbered by men. Men are taught that competition is good and take fun in competing with friends on a day-to-day basis. From a young age, males turn everything and anything into a competition, girls are taught the opposite. This puts women at a disadvantage when trying to compete for senior roles.

According to a global study by Ernst & Young and espnW, 61 percent of female executives said sports contributed to their career and success. To add to that, 94 percent of women in the C-suite played sports, 52 percent at the university level.

Sports can also teach girls about teamwork and how to overcome adversity. And yet, girls feel that these skills aren’t meant for them. In a different national Always-sponsored survey, of 1,800 people, 89 percent of girls ages 16-24 feel there is pressure to conform to the way a girl is supposed to feel and act.

Its 2016, it’s been 44 years since Title IX was passed. Girls today have more opportunities than girls of the 1960s and yet the social and cultural stigmas from then have persisted.

The only way things are going to change is by changing how we as a society view gender roles. We need to believe and act upon the idea that girls and boys have the same capabilities and we need to prepare both for success in the same way.

For access to the surveys mentioned in this column visit, https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/support-us/do-you-know-the-factors-influencing-girls-participation-in-sports and http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160628005793/en.

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I was a part of the Michigan State Women’s Rowing team my freshman year of college.

What to 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.