January 27, 2022

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Lesson of the Day: ‘Step Aside, LeBron and Dak, and Make Room for Banjo and Kazooie’

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Featured Article: “Step Aside, LeBron and Dak, and Make Room for Banjo and Kazooie” by Joe Drape

Young people were already drifting away from traditional sports before the pandemic, but the trend has accelerated in the past two years.

The featured article profiles two brothers, David Grimes, 13, and Matthew Grimes, 11, who are part of a surging migration among members of Generation Z away from basketball courts and soccer fields and toward PlayStations and Xboxes. “The rise in e-sports has come at the expense of traditional youth sports, with implications for their future and for the way children grow up,” Joe Drape writes.

In this lesson, you will look at why so many young people are changing how they play sports and the effect this trend is having on the more than $19 billion youth sports industrial complex. In Going Further activities, we invite you to share your experiences with youth sports and gaming, and to use the article as a mentor text to create your own profile of a Gen Z athlete who illustrates these shifting attitudes and behaviors.

Do you like sports — as a fan or a player? Have you ever participated in organized youth sports? How about an e-sport competition? Have you ever watched or competed in a tournament like League of Legends or Super Smash Bros? Would you ever want to?

What are the benefits of participating in sports? What are the drawbacks? What about for e-sports?

With a partner or in a small group, brainstorm two lists based on your own experiences and those you have heard about from family and friends. Title the first list Pros and Cons of Traditional Youth Sports. Title the second one Pros and Cons of E-Sports. Come up with as many benefits and drawbacks as you can, making sure to consider the physical, social, mental and emotional dimensions for each. When you’re done, share your lists with the class, and together, compile a common list of ideas.

Then, as a group, discuss the following question: Why do you think so many in Generation Z are moving from traditional youth sports to e-sports competitions?

Read the article, and then answer the following questions:

1. How do the opening paragraphs set up the conflict between traditional youth sports and e-sports? Which details stand out? Does Mr. Drape’s description resonate with your own experiences and those of your peers?

2. Who are the Grimes brothers, David, 13, and Matthew, 11? What biographic details stand out to you? How does their story illustrate Gen Z’s move away from traditional youth sports toward PlayStations and Xboxes?

3. Mr. Drape writes, “In the Grimes family, the love of sports was handed down the traditional way.” What role have sports played in their family life? How have e-sports changed their home life, even occasionally “reversing roles” between Matthew and David and their father, Tony?

4. Why has participation in youth sports declined over the past 20 years, according to the article? Give at least two reasons Gen Z youths are choosing e-sports over traditional sports. What role has the coronavirus pandemic played in accelerating this trend? What are the implications for the more than $19 billion “youth sports industrial complex”?

5. Dr. Travis E. Dorsch, the founding director of the Families in Sport Lab at Utah State University, says of gaming culture: “The hierarchy you usually find in traditional sports is gone — everyone is just there. It’s more of a meritocracy.” Does this ring true of your experiences playing video games with others? How important is the social aspect of gaming to you?

6. The article describes many of the challenges of traditional youth sports, such as expensive equipment, time-consuming travel and the risk of injury. What do you see as the future of youth sports? How about the outlook for e-sports? Will it continue to grow in its popularity with Gen Z? Do you think one day we will see more teams for high school and college e-sports than ones for football, basketball and soccer?

7. Return to the warm-up activity: How many of the pros and cons of traditional and e-sports discussed in the article were also on the lists you made? What did you list that the journalist didn’t cover? What did he write about that you didn’t include? Do you think the article does a good job of capturing why e-sports are challenging traditional sports for popularity?

Option 1: Share your thoughts and experiences in traditional and e-sports.

Respond to one or more of the following prompts in writing or through discussion with a partner or group:

  • Do you play many sports — virtual or physical? Which is your favorite and why?

  • How has the pandemic affected your physical routines and activities? Have you been participating in fewer outdoor sports and playing more online games? If so, how has it affected you physically, socially, emotionally and academically?

  • Would you ever want to compete in e-sports? Why or why not? Does reading the article change your views on the growing activity?

  • Does it matter to you if we call video gaming a sport? Does the term “sport” or “e-sport” validate the activity in some way, beyond just a hobby or form of entertainment? Or is the debate trivial? Do you consider e-sports players to be athletes?

  • Does your school or community offer e-sports teams? The article states that this past spring, the Y.M.C.A. of America started a national e-sports pilot in 120 of its U.S. branches. Should more communities and organizations follow the organization’s lead? Should e-sports be offered in all schools?

Option 2: Profile a Gen Z athlete in your school or community.

Imagine that The New York Times has hired you to write the next article on Gen Z and its changing attitudes and behavior on sports. Whom would you profile and why? A participant in traditional youth sports, or a fledgling e-sport athlete like Matthew and David? What questions would you ask? How might these experiences inform and engage readers of The Times?

Brainstorm questions you could ask to learn about your subject’s experiences and accomplishments. For instance, you might ask: What drew you to your sport? What has been most rewarding about your experience? What has been most challenging? How do friends, parents or coaches support you? How has the pandemic affected your chosen sport? What advice would you give others who are considering playing in traditional sports versus virtual ones?

Then, use the featured article as a mentor text to write your profile. Like Mr. Drape, you might begin your profile with a description of your subject’s room — the posters on the wall, the trophies and medals adorning the shelves — or a snapshot of the person’s daily and weekly sporting routines using vivid language to capture the role of sports in his or her life. To round out your profile, you may want to include the thoughts and perspectives of the person’s family, friends, teachers or coaches.

If you are working on this assignment as part of a class project, you may want to display your work with your classmates’ and publish the profiles in the school newspaper or on the school website.

Or you can submit your profile to our first-ever Profile Contest, which begins Jan. 5 and runs through Feb. 16.

Want more Lessons of the Day? You can find them all here.

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