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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Frank Deford Sees the Decline of the Training Camp

Commentator Frank Deford laments what he sees as the decline of the athletic training camp. Football, basketball and baseball all have their own versions of the training camp. He says they no longer serve their original purpose.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Camps for kids, camps for families - there are also summer camps where grown men go to polish their athletic skills. Here's commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD reporting:

Our United States basketball team, preparing for the World Championships in Japan, has been in camp in Las Vegas. Now, why you would choose to hold camp in the middle of the hottest desert summer ever in the metropolis most frontloaded with sybaritic temptation, I don't know. But in any event, the coach of the team, Mike Krzyzewski, has been most pleased. He said the main point was develop a real team concept, not like in the past where our national teams have consisted of a bunch of insulated stars neatly joined by outright selfishness, bound by simmering jealousy.

Coach K assures us that the first week in camp was devoted to establishing camaraderie. He even plans something of a communist approach, in which every game will feature a different starting line-up. Evidently, this Soviet-style manifesto has pleased members of his hoop collective, and all reports are that the previously self-centered all-stars have bought into the plan.

Buy into is what new coaches want to hear from their charges. It's an important sports concept, regularly articulated. At the same time, of course, the pre-season NFL camps are also underway. In the world of sports bivouacs, these are not happy camps. They are purposely hidden away at backwater college campuses where the monstrously large football mesomorphs must cavort under the searing sun, behelmeted in all their hot and bulky pads.

Far from being able to enjoy the liberty and delights of Las Vegas, the behemoths are bedded down in dormitory rooms like - well, like campers. Football camps are not any fun to watch, either. Not only are they located out in the hinterlands, but in camp, football players seldom actually play football. It's too dangerous. Someone might get hurt.

I've never understood how football players learn to tackle, since they so seldom do. Mostly in football camp, players just dutifully study their playbooks in their dormitories. And on the hot and humid fields of play, they perform what are called repetitions. It's horribly tedious.

Of course, the most agreeable camps of all are baseball camps. Well, hardly anybody even calls them camps anymore. It's called spring training. But nobody trains much down there in the resorts of Florida or Arizona. Everybody plays sociable games, fitting them in around their leisure time on the area's many lovely golf courses.

It used to be that spring training was necessary, inasmuch that most of the players spent the winter working at the hardware store or selling insurance. Also, a fair number needed the spring to dry out. Now they're so rich that baseball players don't off-season jobs, so they spend their winters working out with personal trainers, arriving for spring training already trained.

Since a great many of them live in the Caribbean, or are domiciled in their Sunbelt mansions, many actually go north to spring camp. Now that's a modern twist, isn't it?

Well, our basketball comrades play an exhibition tomorrow night in Vegas against Puerto Rico, then break camp and fly off to the Orient. However, the sweaty football camps out there in the stifling sticks go on and on. But football players being football players suck it up en masse, in perpetuity. They have bought into it.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, the senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WFHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DON GONYEA, host:

And I'm Don Gonyea.

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford