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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

Struck Strikes Out: Standing outside the fire

Thursday, July 7, 2005

"You know the difference between today's young athletes and those of my day?" asked my middle-aged friend as we waited on the tee for the foursome in front of us.

Tell me, I said.

"I couldn't wait for the next game," he responded. "In fact, we couldn't wait for the next practice. We played the games because we loved them. Most of today's kids don't have that love of their sport. There are too many distractions out there."

The discussion stemmed from our talk about certain teams that just can't seem to win very many games, no matter what. That malady feeds on itself, I maintained, until the players simply become ill-equipped to win and end up not knowing how to win when the opportunity presents itself.

Of course, we all admitted there were several mitigating factors involved, including team leadership, the tradition and example set by upperclassmen, talent levels, coaching methods, scheduling, fan support, facilities, pride, and good old Lady Luck.

But my friend insisted, and I ultimately concurred, that a vital cog in the success and failure of a high school team is that many of today's players simply don't have the zeal to excel and true love of the game they play.

Way back when I played, my teammates and I could not wait for the next practice, the next game, the next victory. We all loved sports to death and knew the object was to win.

However!

However, most of us did not have our own vehicles, TV was not the addiction it is today, there were no computers to play on and forage into no-no land on, there were no malls to go vegetate and be the coolest in, no all-day movie theaters, no video rentals, no cassette and CD players, no air-conditioned homes with hot tubs or pools, no too-lenient parents with extended curfews, and no mobility to cruise from town to town checking out the other girls and boys.

And without wheels and with parent-imposed curfews, Okoboji and its "every night is Saturday night" lure could just as well been 1,000 miles away.

These are all very real distractions facing our student-athletes today. Add to that mix the fact more than half of the homes are single parent - usually the working mother - where after-school monitoring is a lost art.

Man, all this stuff keeps conspiring to make prep athletics less and less important in a young boy's or girl's life.

Yet we continue to field teams and more teams in the finest uniforms and arenas. And we're faced with the blunt fact that we all love to win - quite often, as a matter of fact. And, try as they may, many of today's "new" coaches working very hard at instilling the thrill of competition versus winning and losing, might just as well be peeing up the proverbial rope.

It doesn't take very many losses before the fans and parents begin to complain and explore for the reasons for the losses. And guess who's sitting there all plump and perspiring like a Christmas Goose? The good old coaches, that's who.

Yet they, like all of us, have to fight the burgeoning battle that too many of today's student-athletes sure would like to win, but it's no big whoop if that ecstasy fails to materialize.

They have all those other things to do, see. And they quickly combine to dull and bury the sting of defeat, a sting so very necessary because it makes the sweet kiss of victory that much more potent.

Back in the old days, without all the distractions, young athletes after a loss went home disappointed, frustrated and mad as hell.

Then, usually with both parents there, they could talk it out and summon the determination to not accept losing again and again and again.

And the only way to do that was to get to that next practice or next game and give it all they had, with the single goal of improvement and victory in mind - not the latest video or some good-lookin' girl or guy they met at the mall.

Yes, Mr. Dylan. The times, they are a-changin.'



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