It’s getting easier to be optimistic on the local sports scene these days.
Whether it’s the Ontario Hockey League’s Soo Greyhounds preparing for the opening of training camp at the end of August or the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds looking ahead to development camp just under a month from now, the future is looking good.
With the province moving toward some sports being able to get going this summer in some form, it’s an important time for young athletes.
For those involved directly with local sports – players, coaches – the importance of a return to some normalcy is important.
Some people will say they’re just games.
While they are games, they’re also so much more. They’re far from being just a game.
For young athletes, a lot of what they learn while playing sports growing up can be translated to everyday life.
You don’t necessarily realize it at the time, but later in life, it all can make sense.
One that comes to mind is the saying “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
Sometimes not taking that risk in sports can be the difference between a win and a loss.
In hockey, a defenceman taking a risk by pinching in at the blueline could translate into an important goal.
In baseball, it might be intentionally walking a hitter that could lead to an inning-ending double play.
We make decisions in our lives on a daily basis, some more important than others, but they all come with some sort of risk involved.
I’ve found that throughout COVID, I’ve uttered the phrase “It’s what’s best for the team” a lot more than usual.
You hear a lot of athletes say that during interviews or at least reference it in some form.
Sometimes it’s a hockey player taking less ice time in overtime of a playoff game or blocking a shot in the final minute of a one-goal game.
It might not be fun at the time, but sometimes a sacrifice needs to be made for the success of everyone.
It’s about the greater good and it’s no different working in a company.
Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice because it’s what’s needed at the time (read: what’s best for the team).
That sacrifice might be working a shift you don’t want or filling in for someone because there’s a need for it due to a co-worker being ill or having a family emergency.
You sometimes have to bite the bullet and, to use a sports cliché, take one for the team.
For young athletes, sports can help players learn about discipline and the true value of working with others toward a common goal.
It’s not always going to be easy and you’re not always going to agree on everything, but that’s part of working toward that goal of being the best team you can be.
It’s not very different than working life once you’re done school and venture into the working world.
When you’re hired by a company, you all have that common goal of making the company the best it can be.
Considering the positives of sports for young athletes, I haven’t even touched on the importance of sports from a mental health aspect as well.
For young athletes in any sport, sports can be extremely helpful in improving their mental health. Sports are an opportunity to be with friends and the physical activity is good for their overall health as well.
Some might say I’m blowing the importance of grassroots sports returning to normal up and making it a bigger deal than it is.
As someone who played sports growing up and into my teens prior to going to university, I can say that there are a lot of lessons, many very similar to some of the ones mentioned here, that I still take with me to this day.
Sports taught me a lot and while I didn’t realize it at the time, I look back some days and realize that some of the things learned from coaches and teammates during that time are things that I can use in my everyday life, and I certainly have done so.
This brings me back to being optimistic.
With COVID-19 vaccination rates going up daily and case numbers declining from what they were during the third wave of the pandemic, I can honestly say this is the most optimistic I’ve been when it comes to seeing local sports return at some point in the relatively near future.
Whether it’s the OHL and NOJHL releasing regular-season schedules for the 2021-22 hockey season or seeing other provinces looking at the potential for the return of some high school sports in the fall, this just might be the most optimistic time to be an athlete or a fan when it comes to local sports.
And for the athletes, this is major news.
Whether it’s OHL players who haven’t been on the ice for games in roughly 16 months or high school athletes who had their sports taken away due to the virus as well, this fall could stand to be a very important time for young athletes at the local levels across the province.
Getting back into the mix for young athletes at this point is extremely important, not only for their mental health, but it could be a help for their future as well, both in the sporting world and beyond.