John F. Russell: The reasons we play the game |

John F. Russell: The reasons we play the game

— When their children are younger, parents introduce them to sports hoping they will meet new friends, explore the world around them to find things they love to do and maybe in the process find some value in fitness and staying in shape.

But the No. 1 reason most parents introduce their children to sports is the hope they will have some fun while they experience all the things listed above. For some athletes and parents, however, sports become a bigger part of the picture. The idea of getting good enough at any sport to pay for, or help pay for, a college education is kind of exciting.

Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with pursuing sports after college, as long as the student athlete — and the parents — keep realistic expectations. It’s also important to realize the student must have a fallback plan in place in case that college scholarship fails to materialize.

The idea of a young athlete playing a sport simply to get a college scholarship is outrageous. Lets face it, youth sports is a journey for athletes and parents, alike. Even for the most talented young athletes, getting a full-ride college scholarship is a long shot. Plenty of outside factors — including talent, work ethic and timing — will play into the final decision. Some athletes have all those things only to fall victim to an unexpected injury that impacts their careers and could crush their futures at the worst possible time.

I’m happy to say that, in Steamboat, I’ve seen more than my fair share of success stories.

Most of the college scholarships I’ve seen awarded to Steamboat Springs students have come in the field of collegiate skiing. A number of factors have contributed to the number of students who have found such success, including the fact that there are only a handful of ski towns across the United States that provide the setting to produce collegiate ski racers, and Steamboat just happens to have one of the strongest skiing clubs in the country based in the heart of its downtown.

Every child who grows up here has access to that club and the coaching that can take them to the next level. It gives young skiers the venues that draw top-level programs to our town in the winter and offer opportunities for our athletes to meet — or at least make an impression on — the coaches who could someday hand out a scholarship.

There is also the fact that the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club has developed a culture of developing collegiate ski racers.

Steamboat’s “can do” attitude has produced Olympians, NCAA champions and reached beyond the ski slopes to make Steamboat Springs a great place to raise children.

I’ve been lucky enough to see that collegiate tradition spread beyond skiing. During my career as a prep sports reporter, I’ve watched athletes find success in basketball, soccer, volleyball, baseball, lacrosse, football and hockey. Truth is, I’ve watched athletes advance to the collegiate level in just about every sport I’ve covered; however, the number of athletes who have played the game after high school pales in comparison to the number of athletes I’ve covered, and the number of athletes who have had their college paid for because they played a sport is even smaller.

But when I look back at the reasons I got my own children involved in sports — reasons I imagine are common to most parents — the idea of getting a college scholarship would not have cracked the top-10.

Many advantages can be gained by introducing our children to sports, and many of those advantages can be used to improve lives off the court, field or ice. For the few lucky and hard-working athletes who are offered the chance to play a sport in college in exchange for a degree, I hope that wasn’t the main reason they started playing a game so long ago.

I hope, instead, that it’s just icing on the cake.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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