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Team U.S.A. – Choose Your Sport

In the U.S. where basketball, baseball and American football rule, the performance of our national teams in other competitions is sometimes overlooked.  Considering the importance placed on sports in our society and the money and resources available you are left to wonder how we cannot be more competitive in sports outside of our “comfort zone”.  

The Rugby World Cup ended for Team U.S.A. today following a thrashing at the hands of South Africa.  This was hardly a big surprise.  The United States is not exactly a rugby nation while South Africa won the World Cup in 1995 and is a contender whenever it steps on the pitch.Already this week, our women’s soccer team was eliminated from the championship in “that other World Cup” by Brazil in a match where they didn’t even resemble the team that had gone over 50 matches without a loss.  Although they redeamed themselves with a solid performance for third place by beating Norway 4-1, there are many saying their period of dominance has passed and they can expect a harder road to any championships in the future.

Our men’s soccer team always claims it is improving and it is true that we are no longer considered a pushover.  We had some success in ’94 while playing host and in the South Korean/Japanese Cup of 2002, but we still have not won a World Cup match when it is held on European soil.

Certainly, college sports programs in the United States present more visible opportunity to 18-22 year olds than those in most other countries.  However, these sports are only open to students at the schools meaning many potential athletes are never exposed to the other sports that could launch them to the international stage.  With the exception of church & factory softball leagues or an office bowling team, how many Americans have participated in a competitive sport outside of high school or college?

While European countries and many others have sports leagues with national and provincial levels allowing even a novice the chance to participate in the sport of their choice and to do so through any age, only the best get a chance to play their favorite sport at a competitive level in the U.S..  This is fine for basketball and baseball, but it means many high-quality athletes consider their sporting career is over when they leave school.

For the women’s game, it would appear that college sports are still helping us keep our competitive edge.  Since universities are required to pump the same amount of cash into women’s sports programs as they do for the men, opportunities abound at U.S. colleges and women are encouraged to participate in a sport suitable to them.  The success of our women’s soccer team could be directly attributed to this.  Our women’s basketball team has won Gold in 5 of the last 6 Olympics and our softball team is utterly dominant, although softball is not really a world sport.  Nonetheless, even in historically strong sports such as volleyball the U.S. is just average as our national team is currently ranked 8th, far behind leaders Russia, China and Brazil and still outclassed by smaller countries such as Italy, Cuba and The Netherlands.

The men, on the other hand, could benefit greatly from a club system that encourages non-students to still pursue sports at a competitive level.

At the end of the day, it is still about the money.  To keep a competitive edge, many universities are recruiting student-athletes from other countries and most American athletes remain focussed on the sports that promise the most, long-term financial reward.  This, once again, favors the women’s programs as female athletes look less realistically at making sports a career and would be more likely to choose a sport ideally suited to them.  

What would be great for the U.S. (and frightening for the rest of the world) is a new approach to high school athletes where, even at small schools not offering the fully array of sports, coaches and gym teachers are trained to keep their eye out for certain types of athletes.  Running backs and linebackers in American football who might not have NFL credentials should be encouraged to look at rugby as a legitimate option for their future.  A basketball player without NBA skills, but a great verticle leap could be guided towards volleyball.  (It is notable that most high schools do not even offer men’s volleyball outside of intramural competitions.)  You have great hands with a stick, but lack the strength or skating talent of an NHL player?  Why not try field hockey?  An argument could even be made for encouraging pitchers and hitters from baseball to look at cricket.

If that athlete is not college material, there should still be avenues available for that person to pursue their sport of choice.  Not only would this benefit the national programs for many of these other sports, but it would be good for the overall health and condition of the nation; something that would take up another article.

The world will always produce its Marta’s and Ronaldinho’s, its Federer’s and even its Tony Parkers; but with the money, know-how and even the racial & cultural diversity in America, Team U.S.A. should always be respected as a potential winner when they take the field – no matter what the sport is.

By Flemish American

I am an American who has lived in Belgium for 20 years. I found myself out of touch with American sports for years and then the Internet re-introduced me to my favorite past-times. Now, I even get back to the States more often and I have a network to see most events I want to. Life is good.

5 replies on “Team U.S.A. – Choose Your Sport”

For someone who prides themselves on spelling… Were they  REALLY “elimitated”??

Nice article though….

Changes made, + Got those changes, although the word surprize was correct in UK spelling.  Since I changed that for my primarily American audience, I also changed “favourite” to “favorite”.

Actually, being English…. Surprised is spelt “SURPRIZE”…you might want to change it..

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