The biggest challenge in organized youth sports in this country is keeping adult egos out, according to Bob Bigelow, a former NBA player who is visiting Wellesley Middle School on Nov. 9 from 7:30-9pm to discuss youth sports with parents and others in the community. Exactly how to keep egos in check “is a mystery to me,” Bigelow acknowledges, though he will share what he’s found to work best during his visit, which will include a coaching clinic.
Asked whether this is a bigger challenge in a town like Wellesley filled with well-to-do residents, Bigelow says not necessarily.
“I could argue in the lower socio-economic towns where folks may not be able to pay for college for their kids they might be even more intense and overzealous because they would think that sports excellence might yield a scholarship down the road,” he says. “What you get in places like Wellesley (not that you don’t get this in Natick, Framingham and other places) is the intensity of excellence. Not only are you going to do well in school and go to Yale or Harvard, but you’re also gong to do well on the basketball court, ice rink or soccer field. That can ratchet up the blood pressure of both adults and kids.”
Among the big changes over the past 20 years that have intensified youth sports has been the proliferation of private sports lessons, which Bigelow said used to be mainly for more individual sports like tennis and golf. “You now have kids from team sports getting lessons,” he says. “The good news with baseball is if your team has 10 kids who can now hit .300, it’s probably going to affect the team positively. However, if you have a basketball team of kids who have been taught shooting and have five kids on the floor with one ball,” there might not be enough balls to go around to satisfy the kids or their parents.
Bigelow says every dollar and hour you lay down in your child’s athletic career trying to make him or her better is going to make your expectations that much more out of whack.
He also says that, logically enough, intensity rises for kids and adults involved in travel team sports, which have now crept down into the elementary schools. Parents and coaches become less likely to keep their egos and tempers in check when not entirely among neighbors, when their kids are playing what Bigelow refers to as “dumbed-down high school varsity sports.” When teams are playing strictly within towns, “it softens the gladiatorial effect,” he says. In Winchester, where Bigelow lives and started a youth basketball program 20 years ago, kids don’t travel until 6th grade and anyone who wants to travel, travels. He says programs that start cutting kids at younger levels are “overtly or subliminally telling kids they are going to be high school basketball players even though none of them can really play a lick – the caste system is already being determined with a bunch of 4-foot-6, 82 pound kids.”
Bigelow on other topics:
*Girls: “Conceptually in team sports, girls get it earlier. 7th and 8th grade girls basketball players can actually get some things that you teach them more so than 7th and 8th grade boys basketball players… Often you see men coaching girls at the middle school level and some of them don’t have a clue because they didn’t grow up girls…”
*Bad behavior by pro athletes: “15 years ago someone asked me ‘How do I explain Dennis Rodman to my 12-year-old?’ Maybe the only question in the history of these talks I haven’t been able to answer… The good news is that no matter how much negative press these professional sports teams get, it’s almost to the point where there’s so much of it, how many 12- or 13-year-old kids really follow it that closely? It’s just part of life.”
For more info on Bigelow’s visit, check out the Wellesley Youth Basketball website.