What’s wrong with kids these days?

One of the highlights of my job here at The Power County Press is covering high school sports. I’ve really enjoyed it. This is a surprise, since sports was not something I participated in much. That is a shame. I can easily see how it encourages hard work, healthy competition, and even community.

However, as a child who was picked last plenty of times when it came to casual games, what sports meant to me then was frustration. Had I been wiser, I would have known frustration is not necessarily the bad feeling I thought it was, because on the other side of frustration is often success.

What I did do as a teenager is read. I read a lot. That certainly contributed to my current success here at The Press, but I would not recommend it, at least to the extent that I did it. Teenage boys are built to have hours of physical activity every day, and I see now I missed out on that. (Although many of those I played sports with, when I did play, could have stood to read a bit more too.)

What I wanted to do is play video games and watch movies all the time. I did a fair amount of that, as well as listening to the radio too. When that wasn’t allowed, I turned to books as the next easiest entertainment. The result was I could be classified as someone who was a “non-participator,” preferring instead the short-lived high of imaginary success that came with entertainment than the real success of running in a touchdown. What I didn’t know at the time was that sitting on the bench in a real game was still much more of a success than scoring a touchdown in a virtual one.

As access to easy entertainment has grown, so has the number of young people who were a lot like me as a teenager. The problem is simple, but the solution is hard, since now trying to cut a young person off from entertainment is like trying to win a game of whack-a-mole. (For my teenage readers: google it.)

Teachers and parents work hard to cajole, threaten, inspire and coerce their young people to participation, and sometimes to no avail. Sometimes parents who are faced with a child who just won’t do anything blame the school system, and sometimes teachers don’t feel backed up by parents.

The blame game can be distracting. Ultimately, even young children have to take personal responsibility for their behaviors, and that can take time and maturity. To use a mixed metaphor, you can bring your potato to water, but sometimes it ends back on the couch.

A lot of this is the result of social and technological change. Currently this change means individual fulfillment has a greater emphasis than group participation. I think that’s unfortunate, but not all think so (I didn’t think so as a teenager), and so there is a struggle our young people face. Group participation always requires personal sacrifice, and so personal fulfillment outside of group participation takes a front seat all too often.

Nationally sports participation is down, and American Falls is not any different, despite its strong tradition of sports. Children, who were once limited to the handful of activities available in their geographic locale, are not limited anymore, but too often their activities have a screen attached.

They’re not limited to screens, though. Other group activities, like drama or band, might take priority in a child’s life—and American Falls may have traded dominance in sports for dominance in the arts (though some of the artsy fartsy among us would shun the sportsy word “dominance,” even though that would apply to American Falls drama programs). Non-traditional sports are making a rise too, with lacrosse numbers way up while other sports are down, an article in The Wall Street Journal reports.

Demographics have changed too, and what might be a traditional sport to one group might not be to another. And sports compete against each other: those with the most sport abilities might migrate to the sport where they feel they have the most chance of winning.

What this means is things have changed, as things do, and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault. But American Falls does need a strong athletic program, and it needs the support of the community to make it happen.

It is not going to happen by wishing the heyday of years gone by back again. Excitement is hard to generate when its tinged with guilt. Excitement is easy to generate with positive encouragement and the publication of successes, even minor successes.

What that means for traditional sports is that they now have to market themselves, which they have never had to do before. It’s going to take some time, but traditional sports in American Falls can become a dominant activity again, though it might take some creativity on the part of those who give their time (often voluntarily) to market it. But we also have to get used to the idea that it might not ever be the same as it was.

I was not here when a basketball or a football game would draw out the whole town, but I personally don’t feel attendance at sports activities are dismal. When I go, I see parents and staff there cheering on their teams. If anything, participation and crowds have increased since I’ve been here. I expect that increase will continue, especially with the increased efforts of the new coaches, athletic director, and volunteers working to increase participation.

Thanks for reading!

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