Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Last summer, I was invited to play a game I had never heard of: “Pickleball,” a regional sport that resembles tennis on smaller courts but is played with paddles (like table tennis) and a specialized wiffle ball that travels much slower than either tennis or ping pong balls. This makes the game easier to pick up and ultimately compete against more advanced players, something neither tennis or ping pong are good at.
Admittedly, it may sound boring and look peculiar. But over the last four months of playing, I’ve become an enthusiastic participant, devoted fan, and happily retired tennis player who now plays pickleball upwards of twice a week. I’m not the only one. Continue reading…
For the record, I don’t consider myself a great writer. I’m certainly an effective, efficient, and sometimes amusing one. But I wouldn’t say great. The below, on the other hand, written by my friend Davey Saunders and published with his permission is great. I hope you enjoy it.
Over the last decade, I’ve mostly written about technology. Among the hundreds of magazine articles and thousands of blog posts published, some cover entertainment. Some science. Some travel. And rarer still, some sports. (All topics that personally appeal to me.)
Of the latter category, these are the stories I’m most proud of, along with the backstories that created them. Continue reading…
To many boys (and some girls), professional athletes are modern-day heroes. Iconic celebrities with fame, fortune, and power. What wide-eye youth wouldn’t want the same?
Turns out, a lot of them do. (With oversized Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan posters adorning my childhood walls, I certainly did.) But as with all desirable things in life, getting paid to play sports isn’t easy.
In fact, the odds are downright nasty for aspiring players, according to new data from the NCAA.
Football began in earnest last week. Not that kind. The oblong American kind. The “hoorah!” kind.
For now, I couldn’t be happier. BYU‘s undefeated and ranked 25th in the country. Seahawks look dominant enough to repeat as Superbowl champions. And even the most jaded fans are full of hope, smiles, and optimism right now. That always makes the world a more enjoyable place to live.
Of course, that’ll change as the season wears on. For most of us, frowns are just around the corner. But there’s a simple trick I’ve learned over the years to avoid letting an uncompetitive or unlucky sportsball team ruin your night, day, week, month, autumn, or even year. It is this: Embrace fair weather fan status. Be proud of it. Bandwagons are fun.
For the next month, soccer fans watching the World Cup will see more fake injuries than any amount of magic spray could possibly cure. And by fake I mean diving, flopping, conniving—temporarily feigning injury in an effort to draw an advantageous ruling on the field.
Although seen in international soccer with regularity, diving during the World Cup happens in greater frequency because the stakes are higher. (This is the world championship, after all, held once every four years.) And when the stakes are higher, cowardice teams will employ anything they can for an edge.
“In the British game, it is often seen as an import from foreign players,” says psychologist Paul Morris, who studies diving at the University of Portsmouth. “Many people argue that it has been common in Italian football for decades.” Continue reading…
In honor of the World Cup, which starts next week in Brazil, here’s how I fell in love with the game.
The year: 198X. I was at a friend’s house in a remote part of northern Oklahoma. We were watching Victory, a so-so Sylvester Stallone movie about a POW soccer team playing Nazi Germany during World War II. My buddy and I were no older than five or six at the time.
Not wanting to endure the feeble character and pre-game drama, we fast forwarded the VHS “through all the boring stuff” to get right to the climatic game. While the build up to said game will likely keep most adults engaged — more for its interesting plot than acting skills — the last 20 minutes of the movie is most triumphant.
The World Cup starts anew this week in Brazil. If the past is any indication, there’s an 83% chance Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Germany, and/or the Netherlands will make the final. What do these countries have that others don’t?
“Of the factors that contribute, none is, necessarily, a prerequisite,” writes Gabriele Marcotti for ESPN. “But the more of the seven ingredients below you have in your shopping cart, the more likely you are to win a World Cup.” Continue reading…
In other words, you don’t do if for the money.
“The Brazilian World Cup is best understood as a party,” writes Simon Kuper for ESPN. “You don’t host a party to get rich. You do it to have fun, and Brazilians will have fun. Yet there’s something obscene about hosting an extravagant party in a country where millions of people need houses, electricity, doctors. That’s what bothered the protestors.”
Politics aside, there are measurable increases in happiness among a host nation’s citizens, according to Soccernomics. Not unlike the effect a good house party has on a host.
But you can still skimp on a party and have a good time. The problem is, I think the Olympics and FIFA always want a lavish party, even if the designated host can’t afford it.
For example, his recent profile on Michael Jordan turning 50 goes to a place few sportswriters go: Deep thoughts.
Aging means losing things, and not just eyesight and flexibility. It means watching the accomplishments of your youth be diminished, maybe in your own eyes through perspective, maybe in the eyes of others through cultural amnesia. Most people live anonymous lives, and when they grow old and die, any record of their existence is blown away. They’re forgotten, some more slowly than others, but eventually it happens to virtually everyone. Yet for the few people in each generation who reach the very pinnacle of fame and achievement, a mirage flickers: immortality. They come to believe in it. Even after Jordan is gone, he knows people will remember him. Here lies the greatest basketball player of all time. That’s his epitaph. When he walked off the court for the last time, he must have believed that nothing could ever diminish what he’d done. That knowledge would be his shield against aging.
Beautiful. More here.
A lot of rabid olympic spectators in America are understandably upset. NBC has spoiled the tape-delayed results on more than one occasion, either with an evening newscast or even a promotional commercial in between events which announce interviews with eventual gold medalists that still haven’t won on tape delay.
Worse still for cord-cutters like me, authentication of a cable subscription is required to watch events live online, even though NBC is a free broadcast channel. Even still, the live stream app reportedly crashes a lot.
At the same time, the number of people watching NBC’s olympic prime-time and tape-delayed coverage is off the charts. Record ratings even. NBC’s tape delayed approach is even boosting they’re revenue, so they’re approach is obviously working, even if it upsets a lot of people.
So why is everyone so pissed off, and by everyone I really mean just a loud vocal minority? Continue reading…
I owned my fair share of Air Jordans growing up. But as a jack of all trades, I always had a soft spot for Bo Jackson, his amazing talent, and his cross training shoes. In fact, I probably owned more Bo Jacksons than Air Jordans. I certainly drew more cross trainers than basketball shoes.
Unfortunately, Bo Jackson was only superhuman for four years until he suffered a hip injury. But for those four years, he was arguably bigger than even Jordan, as this wonderful profile of him suggests. Bo, it turns out, really did know.
Interesting story by USA Today on how ESPN allegedly enticed the ACC to poach Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East, after the latter conference refused a TV deal from ESPN.
I suppose it’s only logical that profiteers would move to high school basketball, having already compromised professional and collegiate hoops.
That said, the below is a must-read summary for any athletic parent, youth coach, or sports fan:
A jarring look at youth basketball: Part 1 | Part 2
Note: The above story is a review of the eye-opening Play Their Hearts Out by George Dorhrmann.
Notable feature stories I’ve written recently:
Similar to Madden NFL, the cable sports network now highlights the playmaker with a under-ring (as seen 1:05 into video). Me likey.
From NPR’s book review of Scorecasting:
When they examined attendance data for the Cubs, one of the unluckiest teams in professional sports who have not won a World Series in 102 years, the authors found it to be remarkably stable — around 90 percent — no matter if the team was at the top of the league or on a losing streak. Fair-weather fans, it seems, actually incentivize a team to win; team owners and coaches will work harder to win games so they can sell more tickets.
Not only are fair-weather fans better for the organization, though. Being one is better for oneself, as fair-weather fans are more at liberty to chose entertainment options that “work for them,” as opposed to staying involved with a mediocre (aka boring) team.
In other words: Go, Cougars! (So long as they’re winning.)
Self-Correcting Golf Balls That Always Fly Straight (Fox)
The money quote: “In the 75-year history of the wire service era, CBSSports.com research showed that it is nearly impossible to win a national championship at the highest level in major college football without cheating. Among the schools that have won titles since 1936, when human polls became the accepted form of determining the sport’s champion, only BYU has never had a major violation in football.”
With the 10th pick in the NBA draft, a lot of people became Sacramento Kings fans last night. I’m one of them.
Above is the kings.com homepage, updated a couple hours after Jimmer was selected. Nice welcome.
“See Jimmer live all season!”
But if it’s anything like the book, Moneyball should be a good movie.
American men’s tennis has seen better days, although Roddick has kept things interesting, reaching the Wimbledon finals four times and playing in that epic match against Federer in 2009.
But I suspect this is far to complicated to ever catch on. And how on earth are amateur, aspiring, or otherwise young players ever suppose to recreate that crazy field!?
Not gonna happen.
PS – Good luck trying to find four goalies. It’s hard enough to find two in soccer.
You don’t have to be a golf fan to appreciate how it went down in Georgia yesterday. My wife and I were affixed to the TV—and we never watch golf.
I wish I could have seen my Dad play basketball.
My uncle tells me he was a phenomenal shooter, regularly putting up 30+ points a night against amateur competition. My old man reputedly scored 50 points in a single half of intramural college ball once (!).
More impressive from a precision standpoint, he shot 50 consecutive free throws at my neighbor’s house when I was a boy. He stopped before missing his first shot so he could get home “for supper,” he says. Talk about ending on a high note.
Marveling at other great shooters this year, including Jimmer Fredette, whom I’ve watched at close range, I asked my Dad what it takes to be a great percentage shooter. His reply:
“It is a combination of natural and great physical skill, thousands of hours of practice and playing, and the ability after reaching a certain point of physical excellence to take your mind out of shooting and letting your body do it! That’s the groove that is spoken of. Not very many reach the ‘groove’ consistently. When it happens, it is like heaven on earth.”
High five, pops!
On Monday, BYU student Michelle Peralta accused fellow classmates of “idol worship” in a letter published in the school paper. Peralta, not to be confused with the awesome ’80s skateboards of the same name, said she was irritated by what she called “Jimmer worship,” Jimmer being the BYU point guard, 3-point killer, nation’s leading scorer, and all-around swell guy.
In all likelhood, Peralta, an admitted non-sports fan, was probably just venting her frustration over the increased volume of Jimmermania sweeping the nation, Provo very much included. That didn’t stop the Internet from having a little fun with her though.
In a virally large thread on her then-public, now-private Facebook page, hundreds of Jimmer fans came to his defense, while sticking with the comical spiritual theme Peralta had started. Here my top 10 favorites: Continue reading…
As the value of higher education continues to decline, these are some great alternatives: Start a business, travel the world, create art, make people laugh, write a book, work for a charity, master a game, master a sport. Splendid!
One of six fabled BCS computers, not unlike something you’d use to surf YouTube.
My latest for Wired Magazine. Bang. (also syndicated on CNN and Gizmodo)
Mixing camping with must-see TV?
Honestly, how much could this fan be “enjoying” a game of football on a three inch screen while camping, especially since he probably has 50″ HDTV at home? Grow a pair and pick one: Get away from it all in the great outdoors or stay home to watch a game you’re really interested in. Or if you must, DVR.
Seriously, what kind of sick society are we turning into? The equation is simple.
It was the ’80s or ’90s. It moved at a faster pace because officials actually let the players play, unlike today. And uh, as the above video shows, it was a lot more physical. Good times. (Thanks, Tim).
Because they’re constantly chaperoning 120 players, “most of them 18-22 years of age,” reports the Associated Press:
Joker Phillips is 47 and in his first season as Kentucky’s head coach after 20 years as an assistant. He said he has made sure to keep good habits despite the demands of the job. “I still work out every day. I still get the same amount of sleep. I just think this game is important to me, but my family and personal health is more important,” he said. “I am a competitor and I do want to win, but I’m not going to let this game ruin my life.”
Photographer had me pose like that because I was a running back. Or at least I tried to be.
Fun fact: Those Puma “soccer” cleats are actually hand-me-downs from my older brother—an understandable side effect of growing up with five siblings.
Photo taken in 1993, after numerous bouts of Bull in the Ring. Image courtesy Cathy Snow (Hi, Mom!)
I’m not crazy about their using corn sweeteners. And they won’t make you jump higher or run faster. But sports drinks (read: bottled sugar water) such as Gatorade and Powerade actually work when it comes to endurance boosts. Marathoners know this, as does this new study by the University of Edinburgh.
Scientists discovered that 12 to 14-year-olds could play for almost a quarter longer during team games when they drank an isotonic sports drink before and during games. The sports drink helped the adolescents continue exercising for up to 24% longer than those who were given a non-carbohydrate placebo drink.
To be clear, you can make homemade sports drinks that are nearly as effective. Just mix water with a little sugar, some flavoring, and a dash of salt. (Most isotonic drinks are a 6% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution.)
They key is to know when to reach for sports drinks over good old water. And all the research I’ve read suggests water is more than suitable for workouts under an hour. Anything longer than that and your body will benefit from the extra dose of electrolytes, carbs, sugar, and salt.
I know mine does during long distance runs.
See also: Top 5 Powerade flavors
If you like learning about things like shoulder stripes, face guard colors, and all things football fashion, this is a must-read. There’s even a little trivia. Case in point: of the 120 top divisional schools, only two teams wear white at home: LSU and Georgia Tech (Go, Jackets!).
Go, Cougars! Protect this house. Show them You-Dubs who’s boss.
- Observing people with a common interest in a moment of elation gives me goose bumps.
- National pride—something America could use a lot more of.
Rudy is my favorite sports movie, so anything that uses its soundtrack gets high marks from me.
- It’s fun watching your country master one of the few things it has yet to master.
- Goonies never say die. And the U.S. soccer team is comprised entirely of Goonies.
- Last minute goals are awesome.
- Hollywood endings happen in real life.
- It demonstrates why the World Cup is such an exciting sporting event.
WIMBLEDON, England – The longest match in tennis history was suspended because of darkness at 59-59 in the fifth set at Wimbledon on Wednesday night.
The first-round match between 23rd-seeded John Isner of Tampa, Fla., and qualifier Nicolas Mahut of France already had been suspended because of fading light Tuesday night after the fourth set.
They have been playing each other for a total of exactly 10 hours — 7 hours, 6 minutes in the fifth set alone, enough to break the full-match record of 6:33, set at the 2004 French Open.
If there’s one thing I don’t like about BYU fans, it’s that some of them actually cheer for Utah when the latter are playing abroad “because it’s good for the Mountain West Conference.”
Sickos. (Didn’t anyone teach them that the enemy of my enemy is my friend?)
Thankfully, this lame behavior by Cougar fans should finally die as Utah this week became the newest member of the PAC-10 conference. So from now on, I expect Cougar Nation to root for the everlasting demise of the Utes.
In other words: Go, Washington. Go, Washington State. Go, Oregon. Go, Oregon State. Go, Cal. Go, Stanford. Go, USC. Go, UCLA. Go, Arizona. Go, Arizona State. Go, Colorado.
But most of all, go, BYU!
Appropriately making its debut during halftime of the USA-England World Cup game last Saturday, I love this commercial. Freedom aside, I also love all three American muscle car reboots: Challenger, Mustang, and Camaro very much included. Would probably buy the Mustang though.
In honor of the World Cup, which starts today, here’s how to call a goal, courtesy of Andres Cantor.
Adidas + Star Wars + Mischief + Daft Punk + Snoop Dog = Fun
Soccer doesn’t make much sense to Americans. Admittedly, it defies many principles we value most in domestic sports, including conclusive endings, lots of scoring, and sportsmanship (aka the opposite of this). Nevertheless, every four years, the World Cup turns numerous Americans into fans of the sport, including Los Angeles native Eric Altshule, who writes:
When I was 11, I thought soccer was gay. How could it not be? Sports was an activity broadcast on network television with production values and drunken announcers like Howard Cosell. Soccer was (at least in Los Angeles) a grainy, week-old, video of a Bundesliga game broadcast on PBS (which in itself is gay) narrated by some guy with a British accent. I played Little League and basketball, and one year my mom signed me up for soccer because she thought it was European, and thus cultural (i.e. gay). Our team name was The Leprechauns (how gay is that?) because some kid’s Irish dad was the coach. No thanks to my skills, we ended up winning our league, and I hid that trophy way back in the closet where nobody would ever see it and told my mom that I never wanted to play that dumb sport again.
These videos profiling World Cup final goal scorers are awesome for the following reasons:
- They’re beautifully filmed.
- I love watching old people smile as they reminisce their proudest moments from the past.
- I love sports biographies.
- I love scoring.
- I love World Cup soccer.
Note: Smooth Harold will likely be overrun with World Cup-related posts for the next two months. You’ve been warned.
I had the chance to cover Real Salt Lake last week on assignment for USA Soccer Stud. In addition to following two World Cup hopefuls from the press box, I snapped some pics with my trusty (but basic) SLR camera. Who knew sports photography was this hard!?
(Sorry for ever doubting you, photojournalists). Following are some of the better shots I took, sans telephoto lens, and by better I mean not very good. Keep reading…
PROVO, UT—Multiple sources today have confirmed that the fabled Mr. and Mrs. Blake Snow have decided to honor Fenway Park with their attendance this year. Set for a visit in October, the couple will realize a life-long dream of seeing the Evil Empire (read: Yankees) play Evil Empire Jr. (read: Red Sox) at the oldest active ballpark in America.
“We are thrilled to finally receive Mr. and Mrs. Snow as our personal guests to the Capital of New England,” said Thomas M. Menino, mayor of Boston. “Their reputation precedes them, so it truly is a source of pride for us. And since they are purported thousandaires, it wouldn’t hurt if they spent a little money on tourism.”
Well I’m officially ready for the World Cup. Front side after the break. Continue reading…
Robert Bradford/USA Soccer Stud
NEW YORK—When you picture Brazil at the World Cup, you expect them in yellow. When you envision Italy, you know they’ll be wearing royal blue. England wears red. Argentina wears baby blue stripes. And Holland dons solid orange.
The United States? They don’t have a signature look, something U.S. Soccer and Nike are hoping to change with the release of new home and away “sash” jerseys. Yes, they look like something a beauty pageant contestant might wear. But there’s a meaningful reason behind the diagonal stripe.
I’m no conspiracy theorist. But I do believe in conflicts of interest. Which is why if I would never hire a foreign national team coach, like many modern soccer nations do.
I understand it’s faster to import coaching talent than to develop it yourself, something which can lead to immediate improvements. But let’s suppose England faces Italy in the World Cup final this summer, which is what they will do if both teams win their groups and go all the way.
England is led by Italian coach Fabio Capello. I’m sure he’s an honest man and all. And it’s doubtly he’d sabotage his employer by somehow jeopardizing said game. But the possibility of temptation is very real, solely because he is not a home grown coach. Never mind his proximity to Sicily.
With so much on the line then, why would a national team (of any sport) ever risk that?
Unconventional bravery has always been USA’s winningest soccer strategy.
Although losing its first unofficial match 0-1 to Canada in 1885, the United States men’s national team beat Sweden 1-2 in its first official match played in 1916. Historian David Wangerin noted how the upset was achieved in my new favorite soccer book, Soccer in a Football World:
Sportswriter Carl Linde observed how much ground the American forwards covered and how their sheer willpower often compensated for a lack of technique. Linde claimed this style represented “a new way of playing” and that the visitors “form a very dangerous team, mainly through their primitive brutality; through their speed and through their will to win at all costs.” Another writer remarked that such energetic play made the home side Sweden look as though they were engaged in “exercise for older gents.” (p. 85)
After the game, U.S. coach Thomas Cahill added, “We were outclassed by the Swedish players on straight football. It was American grit, pluck, and endurance that won. No great football stars were members of our team, but we had the pluckiest aggregation ever banded together.”
To this day, America still plays a more primitive game when compared to giants such as Brazil, Italy, and Germany. You have to respect that. Otherwise you’ll slow play it as the underdog, ineffectively counter attack, and ultimately lose playing better opponents. This, I fear, is what U.S. coach Bob Bradley will do this summer to our team’s eventual demise. Continue reading…
“Oh Ten” has already been kind to sporting events. The Super Bowl was actually worth watching this year. The Winter Games were better this time than four years ago. And March Madness was crazy good—the most exciting first round I’ve ever seen, in fact.
But it doesn’t stop there. Grand Slam tennis picks up again next month with the start of the French Open, followed by hollowed Wimbledon a month later. The Atlanta Braves are gonna win the pennant this year and make it to the World Series. And college football will once again turn your Saturdays into the most important day of the week.
More than anything, though, I have World Cup fever this year. The U.S. opens against former colonizer England on June 12. And other first round match ups are equally oozing with riveting story lines and potential. Plus, all 64 games will be freely broadcast over air by either ABC or Univision in high-definition. (Note to self: Remember to buy bigger TV before hand; clear your schedule from Jun 11 – Jul 11.)
But enough about me. What are your favorite sporting events? What are you excited to watch this year?
Part of an ongoing series where anything I don’t like is labeled “un-American.”
I’ve been an American soccer fan for a long-time, and I can’t stand it anymore. Words like “pace” and “result” should be barred from the game.
In case you’ve never seen a soccer match, many soccer fans and sports writers use the word “pace” when describing a fast player. For example, they’ll say So-And-So “has pace,” or “is pacey.”
Dumbest thing ever. Continue reading…
Bert Williams is 90. You don’t him by name, but he’s the English keeper who allowed a single goal in the team’s monumental loss to America at the 1950 World Cup.
In an interview with the Associated Press this week, he said he was “virtually one of the spectators,” since England dominated possession, but couldn’t “get the ball past” the American defense. “As soon as England played a good ball through, the whole American team retreated to the 18-yard line,” the keeper remembers. “We thought the score should have been 8-1, 10-1 even.”
But it wasn’t. The U.S. won 1-0. Contrary to what ESPN reports, Williams said it was a freak goal that never should have been. “I had the ball covered and it was a deflection off one of their players who was standing in front of me,” he said. “I was going the right way. It just happened.”
What’s more, Williams said the Americans had “no intention of winning,” and even showed up to the game smoking cigars and wearing cowboy hats.
My response: We’ll take it. And have for the last 60 years.
It may be called “the beautiful game,” but soccer is full of bad acting.
If fans want their sport to be taken seriously by fellow Americans—in other words, thrive here—they need to shun diving from the game at all levels. Otherwise, tough-loving American sports fans will never embrace the sport. And soccer fans in general will continue to get an inferior product. Continue reading…
Told you so.
In the 1920s, U.S. soccer proponents were clamoring for a rule change, according to Soccer in a Football World. Said advocates wanted to “Americanize” the game. Specifically, they thought it was ridiculous that substitutions weren’t allowed, even for injured players. So the U.S. Soccer Federation rightfully changed the rule to allow for substitutions—long before either FIFA or the English Premiership did the same.
“This was an innovation which had come very late in relation to other American sports,” writes author David Wangerin on page 67, “though it was not until 1965 that the [English Premiership] allowed substitutes and another five years before they were seen at the World Cup.”
Fancy that. It’s unclear what other countries (if any) were also calling for substitutions at the time. But it’s obvious “Americanization” was on the right side of the argument, despite what purists may have argued. And it’s a clear reminder that changes to the game are sometimes a good thing.
Admittedly, soccer is a wonderfully climatic sport. You wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t agree. But you’re thick if you don’t think it can benefit from innovations like those found in other sports. You’re wrong if you think it’s a perfect game.
You can blame England—the inventors of the game—not America for the word.
As the U.S. Embassy in London explains, “Soccer’s etymology is not American but British. It comes from an abbreviation for Association Football, the official name of the sport. For obvious reasons, English newspapers in the 1880s couldn’t use the first three letters of Association as an abbreviation, so they took the next syllable, S-O-C. With the British penchant for adding ‘-er’ at the end of words—punter, footballer, copper, and rugger—the word ‘soccer’ was born, over a hundred years ago, in England, the home of soccer. Americans adopted it and kept using it because we have our own indigenous sport called football.”
Still don’t like the word soccer? You can file an official complaint with South Africa, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and a handful of others in addition to the U.S. who all refer to the sport as “soccer.”