by Nina York
An avid interest in sports characterizes many communities in the U.S. and can be said to be shared in so many foreign countries. From an early age, boys and girls are usually eager to participate in the physical challenge of excelling in a group sport or encouraged by parents to participate in what might be the parental preferred activity. The traditional favorite American sports of football and baseball are far more popular on this side of the Atlantic than in Europe, which is understandable as these sports originated in the United States.
But in recent years, a favorite European sport has gained considerable popularity on this side of the Atlantic. In Europe it is known as football, but for obvious reasons a different name was chosen for America, namely soccer. Soccer is distinctly different from American football and, while both sports are demanding, soccer is far less punishing, evidenced by its allowing a team of American women soccer players to become top performers in world competition.
In Denmark, soccer is extremely popular and has been so for many years. To be sure, there are major professional teams outside Denmark that have attracted Danish players, many of whom have become idols in their successful careers. One example of the most famous is a Danish soccer player named Michael Laudrup, who for years has maintained a vacation residence in St. Croix, where he has been able to enjoy privacy for himself and his family (unless the island has a lot of Danish visitors spotting him!), a rare privilege for him back in Denmark.
The growing interest in soccer in the U.S. has also been reflected here, where a youth soccer initiative has gathered considerable adherents. Known as AYSO, numerous exchange tours have been successfully arranged and given island youngsters an opportunity to travel and interact with their counterparts in Denmark and elsewhere, as well as having Danish and other soccer youth groups a chance to experience our treasured island.
Another sport that has deep roots in Danish tradition is team gymnastics that in recent years has expanded to a more dynamic team performance, closer to dancing. Over the years, we have received visits by gymnastics teams that have impressed the spectators with their athleticism and grace. While team dance is popular here, there seems to be only modest interest in gymnastics, possibly because of a shortage of facilities.
Whatever the sport, individual as well as team based, it offers an activity that gives participants increased enjoyment, self-esteem, and fitness that leads to a healthier life. That it can also allow an opportunity for international travel and making new friends is another bonus.