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Youth sports: The problem, say kids in a new poll, is adults

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File

(Read caption) In a recent poll, kids say that the problem with youth sports is adults. In this 1999 file photo, a coach exhorts his 9 and 10 year-old baseball players. Their team is The Giants, and they played in the Newton North Little League.

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Nothing in a recent survey by the national youth sports franchise i9 Sports that asked kids about their youth sports experiences surprised me in the least:

– Eighty-four percent said they have, at some point, either quit or wanted to quit a team.

– More than a third have witnessed a verbal argument between adults at their games.

– A third wished adults didn’t watch their games because the adults put too much pressure on them or make them nervous.

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A decade ago, while researching a story on youth sports for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, I watched as a group of middle-aged men literally bid for the services of 12-year-old boys to play on their Little League teams, using points allocated by the local league.

Because points could be hoarded for future seasons, some were holding back waiting to build their dynasties. This “draft” was an annual ritual virtually unknown to the larger community and it took place in a poker game like atmosphere.

These men were already competing with each other, before the season even began. And once the male competitive ego enters the youth sports equation you have a recipe for disaster in which the needs of the children become subservient to the needs of the adults.

Bob Bigelow, a former first round NBA draft pick who played four NBA seasons, has been on a mission for two decades to give the games back to the kids. In speeches around the country he tells his mostly male audiences that their competitive egos mean nothing to the process and if they aren’t smiling at least 90 percent of the time they ought to resign.

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