Hansen: Lawn bowling holds key to sport

Most people of a certain age grew up with three of everything — three TV stations, three friends and three sports: football, baseball and basketball.

Now, kids have thousands of limitless TV channels, virtual friends and a wide world of sports that has truly become global.

On any given Sunday, my three boys can do lacrosse, water polo, Jujutsu, sea kayaking or almost any of the 8,000 official sports. Why?

Why not?

When there is lawn bowling in your backyard, why not try it?

The Laguna Beach Lawn Bowling Club held its annual open house last Saturday, where visitors could get a free introduction to the sport.

A great teaching moment, I hauled the boys away from their video games long enough to experience something different.

"No one really thinks about lawn bowling because it's not really in America's eye," said David Grofik, president of the club. "In Australia, England and other places, it's so much more popular because it's so much more publicized. Here, no one really knows about lawn bowling, but I really think it's starting to catch on."

Saturday's open house proved successful for the club, which gained 50 new members, Grofik said. Every year, the club hosts the U.S. Open of lawn bowling, which will take place Sept. 21 to 27.

"I think what's cool is that all different ages can play it, and it's competitive, so you can have a kid if he really practices, can be as good as someone who is much older," he said. "There's a lot of skill and strategy in the game. It's definitely challenging. It's really fun, I've got to say."

My boys were leery at first — I had to pull the "it's a surprise" routine to get them there — but once they saw the technology behind the "bowl," they were intrigued. If fact, they lit up trying to estimate the arc of the roll.

In case you are unfamiliar, the bowls (or balls) are shaped in such a way that they roll in a curved line, based on which side is facing out.

"It is pretty challenging," Grofik said. "When you see some of the play at the U.S. Open, for example, it's really amazing what they're able to do. It really is."

Historically, the sport attracts an older demographic, but Grofik said that's changing.

"I think now it's starting to get popular with younger people. Our average age has definitely dropped. And that's really great because we're trying to cater to folks who work."

Organized youth sports are suffering significant drops in participation across the country. One reason is the proliferation of alternative sports.

According to the National Sporting Goods Assn., which tracks attendance figures, youth have steadily dropped out of all major traditional team sports during the past decade.

Basketball is down 5% to 24.4 million; tackle football is down 6.2% to 8.9 million; softball, down 7.9% to 11.8 million; volleyball, down 11.7% to 10.7 million; and baseball, down 13.5% to 11.5 million.

Incidentally, the hottest sport over the past few years with double-digit growth? Yoga.

But why are kids abandoning traditional team sports? Because they are playing Xbox, Minecraft and Instagram.

They are happy playing with their friends in Japan, Russia and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

If they happen to play baseball or soccer, chances are they have played it since they were 3, which means they are burned out by 10.

Almost every organized youth sport has become hyper-competitive in some way. Kids hit referees in the face. Parents still yell and fight in the stands. Hand-picked, ultra-elite teams play year-round travel ball. It is expected that your star has a personal trainer.

Such is modern youth sports, and the fallout is undeniable.

Lawn bowling and other alternative sports, therefore, are benefiting.

"I like it because there's a lot of history, there's a lot of tradition, there's a lot of respect and etiquette," Grofik said. "There's nothing better going down there at 6 o'clock and bowling through the sunset. It's just a very unique place, that's for sure."

Someday we may regret having too much TV with nothing to watch, or thousands of virtual friends who don't really know us, but if asked to choose between another season of screaming Pop Warner football fanatics or the polite, engaging folks at the lawn bowling club overlooking the ocean, I'm donning my whites and hitting the green.

Besides, I stopped watching football on Dec. 24, 1994, when my hometown L.A. Rams played their last game in L.A., opting to abandon tradition, ignore oaths and trample loyalty.

Bitter? Maybe, but I'm not the only one.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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