Youth Fitness Should Trump Athletic Competition

“Combined participation in the four most-popular U.S. team sports—basketball, soccer, baseball and football—fell among boys and girls aged 6 through 17 by roughly 4% from 2008 to 2012.” [Wall Street Journal]

Docs and others are worried because “It is much more likely that someone who is active in their childhood is going to remain active into their adulthood.”

Forgotten in this discussion is the fact that there are lots of ways to be active. When it comes to youth, we focus far too narrowly on athletic competition at the expense of fitness.

One common theory for the decline is that social networking, videogames and other technology are drawing children away from sports. And of course football faces a more specific challenge, “growing concern that concussions and other contact injuries can cause lasting physical damage.” The Journal speculates on other causes including increasing costs of participation to excessive pressure on kids in youth sports to cuts in school physical-education programs.

I was intrigued by one student’s story in the article:

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Cronin is the daughter of a former three-sport high-school athlete. But Jessica doesn’t participate in high-school sports, choosing to spend her time outside of class volunteering in her community and going to her temple youth group each Wednesday. “I considered doing track, but it takes up so much time,” said Ms. Cronin, a sophomore at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, N.Y.

Since most fifteen year-olds can run 6-7 miles in an hour, I suspect Jessica prefers her community service and youth group activities because they’re based on cooperation more than competition. Most young athletes don’t care about winning as much as their coaches. They’re not anti-competition per se, they just can’t relate to, and therefore resent, many of their coaches “win at all costs” approach.

That’s why a lot of young people gravitate to alternative sports like ultimate frisbee and alternative activities like skateboarding.

Survey youth basketball, soccer, baseball and football coaches about what’s most important to them and their athletes long-term health probably won’t make the list. Too many youth coaches are fixated on scoreboards and win-loss records. School principals, athletic directors, and parents aren’t doing enough to train, hire, and reward coaches who think about team sports as a context for healthier living.

Switching from a competitive team sport orientation to a fitness one should start with wider, better lit roads with generous sidewalks so that most young people can walk, bike, blade, skateboard, or run to and from school. Next physical education classes should emphasize life long activities including walking, running, yoga, swimming, and related activities. Students should be encouraged to compete against their younger selves to walk, run, cycle, and swim farther faster.

When fitness trumps athletic competition physical education classes and team sport practices will be more fun than video games. There should be little to no standing around. I have fond memories of some high school water polo practices where our conditioning consisted of a crazy obstacle course that culminated with a celebratory jump off the three meter board. We improved on the coach’s design by firing balls at one another mid-air. Granted a nose was broken and that was in the Pleistocene Era before the first lawyer emerged from the primordial ooze. Practices would be shorter because the emphasis would be on quality of activity more than quantity.

Who is with me?

 

Sayonara Ichiro

On Monday afternoon Ichiro switched lockerrooms and traded his Mariners uni for pinstripes. Wins for losses. Unless you’re a Pacific Northwesterner or serious baseball fan, you probably don’t know that veteran Mariners don’t fade away, they just sign with the Damn Yankees.

I’ll never forget one of Ichiro’s first Mariner games when he threw a guy out at third from deep right. The “laser beam”. The best throw I’ve ever seen (at 3:52).

Despite having played 11.5 years in Seattle and being a future Hall of Famer, most Mariner fans have an “it’s about time, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” attitude towards the trade. When Griffey was traded to the Reds in 2000, M fans were crestfallen. Why the dramatic difference?

Here’s the alleged rap against Ichiro:

• he’s selfish as evidenced by his singleminded pursuit of a record number of hits at the expense of working counts, getting walked, and creating even more havoc on the bases

• he’s selfish as evidenced by his keeping to himself and providing zero clubhouse leadership despite being the team’s best player throughout most of his M career

• he was a diva—as his salary skyrocketed and his skills declined in recent years, coaches couldn’t move him in the batting order, rest him, or (until Monday) trade him because over the years, the team’s Japanese owners, his agent, and him yielded more power than the team’s shorter-tenure GM and coach

• he was duplicitous, speaking English in private while using a Japanese interpreter in public

To muddy the water even more, reporters that covered the team in the 90’s describe Griffey as difficult, surly, impersonal. Maybe the dramatic difference is the result of one, or a mix, of three possibilities.

Theory One. Griffey’s passionate style of play, his prodigious homeruns and willingness to run full speed into the centerfield wall to make a catch, more than compensated for his own interpersonal limitations. Also add into the mix the way he came up, starring immediately, with his dad in the lineup. The Kid.

Theory Two. Griffey was beloved in part because at least half the time his M’s won. The M’s lost for eleven of Ichiro’s twelve years. His popularity suffered as a result of management that wasn’t willing to spend enough to build a team that could compete. Just as Griffey benefited from positive winning vibes, Ichiro paid the price of mounting fan frustration.

Theory Three. Admittedly, far less flattering. Instead of seeing Ichiro as one, especially introverted person, many M fans didn’t understand or appreciate the cultural differences he had to deal with daily, and ultimately ended up resenting his foreignness. Given the stark contrast, I can’t help but wonder if the Grif-Ichi public sentiment chasm is at least partially explained by xenophobia.

Any of these resonate? Have another theory?

Before

After

Why Obama Will Be Playing Even More Golf

I’m doing my best to block out Presidential politics, but you can’t expect me to remain completely silent.

My liberal friends roll their eyes at me when I predict this election is going to be really close and could very well go Romney’s way. They don’t appreciate the magnitude of conservatives’ dislike for President Obama (P.O.). As one of my right wing nutter friends puts it, “ABO—Anybody But Obama”.

W was a mountain biker. Obama is a golfer. My guess is he likes golf because it’s the exact opposite of Presidential politics in that you control your destiny. No person is an island. . . except for when they’re on the first tee. Roll in a 25 footer for birdie and bask in the glory. There’s no infielder you have to throw to for the relay at home, no catcher that has to hold onto the ball, no other oarsman or woman to keep rhythm with, no doubles partner to cover the alley, no teammates at all. Slice it out of bounds and accept the responsibility for the two stroke penalty. No projecting.

P.O.’s re-election hinges upon improving economics at home. And because our economy and Europe’s are increasingly interdependent, that will be determined in part by people named Angela, Francois, Mario and Wolfgang. And then there’s Congress. P.O. wants temporary tax cuts and spending initiatives to spark public sector job hiring, but Congressional Republicans have no incentive to help him.

And China is letting its currency devalue again, making its exports cheaper and those from the U.S. to China more costly. India’s economy is slowing and the phrase “financial contagion” is appearing with increasing frequency in business periodicals. Eurozone unemployment is at 11%, the highest since tracking began in 1995.

Then there’s the Supreme Court which sometime soon will decide whether P.O.’s controversial first term focus—expanded health care coverage based upon required participation—is constitutional or not.

And there’s this picture from my California cycling sojourn.

A suggestion, fill up before or after Lee Vining, CA.

Economists are quick to say a President doesn’t control the cost of gas or the nation’s growth rate, let alone the unemployment rate in Europe or at home, but perception is reality. Add up last week’s anemic job growth numbers, the tick up in unemployment, higher than average gas prices, the mess that is the Eurozone, stagnant wages, especially tough job prospects for college graduates, and any challenger would have a decent shot at defeating the incumbent.

If those variables don’t improve or get worse, an Obama loss will not surprise me. Either way, look for him to play more golf whether as a second term president or a former president because the golf course is the only place where he alone controls his destiny.

I Predict

One year ago, I predicted the Seattle Mariners were going to win the World Series. Finishing the regular season at 61-101, they just missed the playoffs. Their anemic offense set records for futility. I am the original April Fool.

A few weeks ago I predicted the Belmont Bruins were going to win a few NCAA tournament games and go farther than Arizona. Wrong and wrong.

I will not be swayed. I predict I’m going to see the sun next week when I’m living large in . . . wait for it. . . Palm Springs, California. Look for me. I’ll be the dude by the pool with a hoodie over my headphones. This is what I’ll be rocking.

I also predict Butler over KY which means you should bet on UConn or VCU (where I interviewed for a job back in the day). Shaka did too much press this week. Wasn’t smart. Beware the bright lights.

In other news, we learned this week that the President has been lurking on Pressing Pause. Wednesday’s headline read, “Obama calls for U.S. to cut oil imports by a third by 2025“. Of course any goal that exceeds a politicians term by a year, let alone nine or thirteen, is disingenuous. In 2025, Obama will be playing golf on a daily basis. I call bullshit on any politician whose promises exceed his or her term.

Every once in a while you write a post that starts out nice and focused, say on failed predictions, and then goes off the rails, and we all know what happens when a train jumps the rails.

Fitness update. See, total nonsequitur. Jumping the rails never ends well. March was very solid. In terms of Tour de France prep, I’m slightly ahead of schedule. Lighter than normal teaching schedule, injury free, no excuses. Swam 2x/week, 29,400m; cycled about 4 hours a week, 349 miles, all but 76 indoors on the M3; and ran 4x/week, 148 miles. And I’m turning into a pushup planking machine. Highlight of the month (or year, or decade, or my athletic life), when Marley spotted me too big of a lead up our hill and I held him off for the driveway victory. Lowlight, doing backstroke right on the lane line during a busy day at the pool and first brushing an unknown woman’s breast, then her hip, and then her thigh in the lane next to me. I was not arrested and I have not seen my picture in the lobby. Wonder what the statue of limitations is on something like that?

What races or events are on the schedule? Apart from waiting on the RAMROD lottery, strangely, none at present.

As soon at Butler cuts down the nets, the obvious question isn’t what to do in Libya, but who is going to win the first major golf tournament of the year at Augusta National? Tiger, Phil, Watney, Kuchar, Westwood, Double E, Kaymer, Couples, Matteo Manasserro? I’m going to go with Watney, which means he’ll be lucky to make the cut.

For tolerating this stream of consciousness, I give you Cori Schumacher, who because she’s not for sale, is the Pressing Pause Person of the Week. Link here.

As always, thanks for reading. Have a great weekend and “see” you next week.

Left to right, The Winner and the LOSER