Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Glory Days: Discussing Youth Sports

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Sandlot. A classic tale of neighborhood kids, summer shenanigans, and life lessons learned from baseball. While the era of childhood has changed in many ways since the days of Benny, Smalls, Squints and Yeah Yeah, kids are still...well, kids.

Looking back on my own childhood, when it comes to sports, those are often viewed as the Glory Days (insert Bruce Springsteen background music here). My parents once added up the number of gymnasiums in which I played basketball tournaments from the ages of 10-18 and the number was well over 250. I will add that most of those did not have A/C, so in the humid summers of the mid-west I equate that as my version of walking to school in the snow uphill both ways.

Boy, have youth sports changed. The National Association of Sports Commissions now consists of more than 350 rights holder members, or members who put on events. Now a big portion are organizations such as national governing bodies (NGB) of Olympic sports, or NCAA, NJCAA, NAIA, etc., but a significant number are youth sport organizers. As much as we'd love to think it's always "about the kids", that is not always the case. Youth sports is a highly commercialized (thus monetary-driven) industry these days. Look no further than the implications on college basketball right now.

There is additional irony to note. Did you know according to the Sports Fitness Industry Association study by the Physical Activity Council, core participation among ages 6-17 have gone down over the last 5 years in all sports except hockey, fast-pitch softball and lacrosse? The same study noted that among the same age, the average number of sports in which kids participate has gone from 2.19 in 2011 to 1.89 in 2015. At the same time, overall team sport participation has held steady. In other words, although 2.19 to 1.89 sports does not sound like much, it indicates kids are specializing in one sport much more frequently than in the past.
Credit: State of Obesity

It's also interesting to look at peak ages of sport participation. Basketball is 13, soccer is 10, baseball is 8, volleyball is 14, football (tackle) is 15. After these numbers, participation tapers downward.

Oh, and by the way, one out of every 6 children is now classified as obese. Check out this interactive trend chart by state.

These stats surely paint a gloomy picture.

So how is it, in the smartest, most technologically-advanced era, with data coming out of our ears, that this is so?

Well, there are a number of factors at play, and I'll briefly touch on just a few. First, sport vs. athletics. Sport involves competition. Athletics involves physical activity and games of any kind. We've moved away from athletics (i.e. playing for fun) to sport (i.e. playing for competition). Studies have shown that when left to their own devise, kids will actually organize, play, and self-govern their activities. Not to mention the creative games they develop. Stack that experience up against 2-hour fully structured practice at the ripe age of 4 (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating...but probably not). Heck, they might even have fun, develop social skills and who knows, maybe enjoy the physical activity that keeps them from getting obese.

Instead, we see burnout, overuse injuries, specialization, access barriers for non-elite players, decreasing recreation opportunities, and rising participatory costs. Sounds like we've really held true to the essence, huh?

Credit: Aspen Institute Project Play
I had a wonderful conversation with a local youth sport organizer this week in which I heard a refreshing take on mission and objective. Yes, elite teams were a part of the conversation, but what struck me the most was his focus on access, play, and under-served populations. We at the GGJSC, will do everything in our power to help.

Perhaps my educational background has jaded me, but I'm a year away from completing my doctorate in sport management and my almost 6 year old son does not know the difference between baseball and football. And that is fine by me. But the conversation I had this week did give me hope. Please note, this is not at all intended to be a drag on youth sports, these are just facts and the reality of the situation we face as a country.

Credit: Hooked on Paddleboarding
Do you know the fastest growing sport among ages 6-17? It's stand-up paddleboarding. And my guess is that it's because kids can get out on the water, have fun, and they can't hear their coaches or parents screaming from the shore! :)

Shouldn't every kid deserve the chance to play, learn valuable life lessons, and in 20 years reflect back on their glory days just like Smalls?

As the great Michael Jordan once said "Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game." This has been Stoll on Sports. Additional resources below.

Resources about Youth Sports:

Monday, January 8, 2018

What's that floating around in your mind?

Have you ever heard that old maxim "What you think upon grows"?

Is that really true? In that case, I'm surprised my pile of homework isn't busting out of my house.
What I picture when my homework grows

It's long been noted that many successful athletes at the top of their game use visualization tactics to enhance their performance. Dr. Jennifer Cumming, in an article for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, listed the following reasons why athletes should use visualization, or imagery techniques:

  1. To get the most out of training.
  2. To compete more effectively.
  3. To speed up your progress toward the top of your game.
  4. To aid motivation.
  5. To stay in top form when you are unable to train.
I don't know about you, but those outcomes sound desirable for not only athletics, but for the rest of our personal and professional lives as well. 

Cumming explains that visualization is also called imagery, or "mental rehearsal". Mental, as in of the mind. Thoughts. 

My simple mind understands this to mean that athletes think about succeeding in order to succeed.

I read an outstanding book by neuroscientist, Dr. Caroine Leaf recently called Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. In her book, Dr. Leaf explains fascinating science behind neuroplastisity of the brain, in which new pathways are formed in the brain as a direct result of your thoughts. Her 21-Day Detox program is designed to assist you in building beneficial pathways through, essentially, throwing out the trash you think about and replacing it with thought yielding better results. I made it to about day 5 before I fell off the bandwagon, but this theme has reemerged enough times with me over the past year that I can honestly say I have noticed a welcome improvement in my thought life.

Back to Dr. Cumming. In outcome number one above, Cumming states "Top athletes use imagery extensively to build upon their strengths and help eliminate their weaknesses." Ummm, yes please!

It's amazing that something so simple can be so life-changing. But isn't that always so? I'm not the pot calling the kettle black here, I'm as guilty as anyone of letting my thoughts get away from me. 

In Peak Performance, by Stulberg and Magness - coincidentally, another book I recently finished and also highly recommend - authors also discuss neuroplasticity in a broad-spanning examination of commonalities among top performers in various industries.

I think a lot about things I need to accomplish on a daily basis, but if I'm honest, I don't spend nearly enough time in the mental practice of visualizing (thinking about) goals, dreams, aspirations. Big. Hairy. Audacious. Goals. AKA: BHAGs.
Maybe he's not so scary after all. 

Inside I'm afraid of letting myself - or others - down. I rationalize myself right out of a breakthrough. I think those dreams are for other people. I think tomorrow I'll dream big...

It's easy to slip into this trap (don't I know). Whether you are an all-star athlete or a stay-at-home mother, your mind wants to be unleashed to think BIG, and think positive. Sure, we'll trip up and stub our toes, but that's where the real learning comes in.

A good Word. 
Did you know there is even a day, May 31 to be exact, called "What you think upon grows day" based upon Emmet Fox's Make Your Life Worthwhile? I certainly didn't. 

This concept is nothing new, if you have read the New Testament, you have likely come across Philippians 4:8 in which Paul writes to the church at Philippi "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4:8 ESV.

Eleanor Roosevelt
So let's try to do ourselves a favor and take stock of our thoughts, adjust where needed (even if it's 100 times a day), and build the figurative and literal pathways to future success. Who knows, we just might surprise ourselves of the outcome!

Remember, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, "With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts."

This is Stoll on Sports.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Finding the Value

Happy New Year! What a time to reflect on values of life. Many times we speak of the "value" of something...whether its the goods or services we purchase, or the value someone or something brings to our life. We strive to surround ourselves with individuals and experiences that add value to our lives. We do this through activities, friendships, hobbies, etc.

According to Google (or "The Gargle" as one of my relatives used to call it), "value" is defined as "n: the value something is held to deserve; the importance, worth or usefulness of something". The secondary definition is "a person's principles or standard of behavior; one's judgement of what is important in life." Corresponding verb definitions are "an estimate of monetary worth of something" or "to consider someone or something to be important or beneficial". Interesting. Value, in many cases, is like the eye of the beholder. For example, some people find value in a nice bottle of wine, while I'm more of a Two-Buck Chuck kinda gal. (Well, less and less, but I digress).

Two-Buck Chuck...Thank you Charles Shaw
I think a lot about what gives my life value. Family. Friends. Experiences. Memories. Some of my fondest memories are of playing sports growing up. From rec basketball at Beech Acres (is that place still there?) and college softball, to golf, to now mountain biking, and CrossFit. I love the camaraderie, the challenge, the memories (like swiping my neighbor's side-view mirror off during a game of cul-de-sac kickball. I swear, when it happened, there wasn't another soul in sight, but when I shamefully walked up the street with a broom and dust pan, every single neighbor on the block was out. Anyone else have this experience?)

My point is, I believe sport brings value to individuals and community. In developing nations, sport as used as a catalyst for many outcomes, such as women's rights, education, and business opportunities. This is known as Sport for Development and Peace or SFD (very clever name, huh?). In fact, the United Nations even has an office on SFD which outlines some of the benefits of sport. See the website here: Benefits identified by the UN include:
Cred: Dekh News, There is even a Sport for Development and Peace Day

  • Individual development
  • Health and disease prevention promotion
  • Promotion of gender equality
  • Peace building and conflict resolution
Among others. 

But what about in our own communities? How does sport influence the every day of our current lives? Is it economic impact? Exposure? Brand perception? Could it be the values we share?

Photo Credit: JUCO Tournament
In Grand Junction, we host the National Junior College World Series every year for the last 60 years. It's a part of the fabric of our community's DNA. A time when the town is a buzz. The highlight of the year on many residents' calendars. And it revolves around sport. Not pro athletes, but inspiring, driven, put-it-all-on-the-line college kids. It does something to our community that transcends 9-inning games on a baseball diamond.

It gives value...has worth, is a benefit, is held in high regard, and is useful. To the fans, the athletes, the local community, and so, so many more.

To me, his innocence of sport is the heart of its value, and from kids to adults, the value can shape not only who we are, but the community in which we reside. This might look different in every place, for every age, but the value is worth noting. At the sports commission, we're not just about bringing and building events for our community, we're about the bigger picture, the true value of sport to our community.

This is Stoll on Sports. Remember this quote from Einstein "Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value."

Cheers to a valuable 2018!