Fitness guru Jake Steinfeld — infomercial viewers might know him as the “Body by Jake” dude — delivered a simple message to 13-year-old athletes last week at the World Series of Youth Lacrosse in Denver.
I’m not sure how many of the teenagers from 24 elite teams remembered that phrase after Steinfeld’s speech in the opening ceremony. Let's be honest, finding out they were all getting new cleats is what really captured their attention. But the boys on the first Utah team to participate in this exclusive event certainly played like they did.
The Utah Hoppers — a team comprised of 23 of the best young lacrosse players from the northern part of the state — didn’t win any of their six games against the best teams in the world, including against the eventual World Series champions (Team 91 Bandits from Long Island, New York).
But, more importantly, after receiving a late invitation to fill in for a team that couldn't make it — after having heartbreakingly lost by one goal in the qualifier in Palm Springs last February — there’s another thing the Hoppers didn’t do. As instructed, they didn't quit.
Jake had to be proud, especially how the Utah squad fought against more talented teams from lacrosse-rich areas and then mounted a comeback in their final game — not quitting after five setbacks — before just coming up short one last time against Salt Water (Florida) 6-5.
Even though they still lost, having the guts to fight back and pull within one late in the game after falling behind by four is something they'll never forget. Knowing they played hard against all of the upper-tier competition in difficult circumstances also spoke highly of their character, which is what parents can only hope for with youth who play sports.
This dad certainly was proud of the Hoppers' resiliency and effort. Mom was, too.
“This scoreboard reflects the scores from today. What it doesn’t reflect is how hard these boys have played,” my wife Heather wrote on Instagram after the Hoppers lost three games on their first day. “They held these teams tied or really close for 3/4 out of every game so far. These kids are no joke — legit, hard lacrosse teams — and this Hoppers team is playing pretty great, even if the tournament record reflects otherwise. Tomorrow (they play) against those top two teams in our group and will likely be the hardest games they have ever played in their lives. East Coast doesn’t mess around. They are hard-core, heavy-duty lax teams. I am so proud of these boys and how well they have played so far."
Heather mentioned two other important attitudes that prevailed amongst the hundreds of young athletes. "Sportsmanship is a big deal, respect is also.”
Winning is fun, of course. But playing team sports is so much more than that, as we were reminded during what our son Ethan called a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.” That unforgettable experience included six losses and zero wins on the field, by the way. Well, that’s what the standings showed. In reality, it was just one big win for the Utah boys — as sports should be, especially for youth. They left their hearts on the field and left the field with heads held high.
Ethan’s favorite part? Aside from getting new New Balance cleats and lacrosse swag, having a chance to walk through Mile High Stadium with teammates and the other 23 teams, and exchanging pins with kids from around the country and world (Israel and Canada had teams)?
“Playing the hardest competition,” said a kid who likes losing about as much as teens his age like doing the dishes. (For the record, he's pretty good at doing chores.) “It was fun playing really hard teams instead of really easy teams. We got better and learned from our mistakes instead of always having easy games.”
Ethan is a hard-hitting defender and very competitive, so he also liked “every time I laid someone out.”
It was interesting to hear how the Hoppers maintained a positive outlook and were seemingly more satisfied about their performance in six defeats last week than they were while winning a tournament earlier this summer. It’s a good reminder that giving your best effort (which they did in Denver) is even more important and rewarding than coasting to wins (which they seemed to do in the Park City Shootout).
“I thought the boys, despite losing six games, had a really good attitude about everything,” said Hoppers coach Brandon Horoba, who's coached Brighton High to state championships and was an assistant at Utah Valley.
“They learned from it. They came away knowing they had lots of room to improve and that they can potentially hang with some of the best teams with some improvement.”
Though 13-year-old lacrosse might not be your thing, the Hoppers' tournament showing mirrors the sport's growth in the Beehive State. The University of Utah is joining the NCAA Division I ranks and lacrosse will be sanctioned by Utah high schools in 2019. It’s an exciting time in the Salt Lax City area — as some lacrosse fans humorously call it — for an East Coast sport that is becoming more popular out West. For the Hoppers, this was the first time they’d ever played teams from the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area, Florida and Georgia.1 comment on this story
“I’m glad we took the chance we had and made the most of it,” Horoba said. “We spoke to a couple of coaches that we played against and watched us play. They had a lot of respect and said our team fought hard and is going to be a good team if the boys continue to work and continue to grow.”
That will especially be the case if they follow the simple advice from the former infomercial star who founded this event, which even received ESPN2 coverage.
Sometimes in life things won't go your way and your opponent will simply be better than you. But you can always win even if the scoreboard says otherwise.