Bob Bigelow and Saving Youth Sports

Part one of a series on the topic.

I discovered Bob Bigelow by accident one day several years ago. His opinions regarding youth sports convinced me that I wasn’t a complete idiot. And I wasn’t that parent — the one who complained and questioned coaches and organizations just to hear his own voice.                      

I decided instead that I was an incomplete idiot; imperfect in my approach maybe, but not entirely foolish in thinking that I could advocate for change within the usually inflexible youth sporting establishment.

On Monday night Farmington Recreation brought Bob Bigelow in to speak. So after about a year of corresponding by phone and email, I was finally able to shake his hand and thank him for justifying my youth sports battles.

Bob Bigelow is a man who can back up any idea, fact, or statement with a flurry of life experiences and a bevy of studies. No notes are needed. There’s no hesitation in the cadence of his thunderous voice. He fires his thoughts like a cannon, but with the aim of a sharpshooter.

The crowd should have been 10 times its size. It didn’t matter. I suspect he’s the same guy whether in front of 50 or 5,000 people. More than anything, I was sorry for the children who will be playing for coaches who have never crashed head-on into Bigelow’s cache of youth sporting philosophies.

I was surprised by a few of the faces who were in attendance, although some would leave before being fed the good stuff. I suppose many didn’t have the fortitude to look themselves in Bigelow’s mirror long enough to see past their own reflections.

There were parents in attendance. Regular parents. I spoke to a few afterward. Funny how they all knew the same names in town: the ones who needed to be at the lecture but were not, as well as those who should be released from all coaching duties immediately.

It’s like that in every town. And it’s sad when politics and a lack of common sense allow the knuckleheads to carry on as usual.

Bigelow on giving up on a player too soon:

He tells of a kid whose two favorite sports in junior high were baseball and football. Who as a 5’9”, 155 lb. high school sophomore was cut from his varsity basketball team. Who grew six inches and made the varsity team as a junior. Who by his freshman year in college had grown nine inches and gained 50 lbs. Who in six years had gone from being cut from the varsity team at his high school to becoming one of the top five players in the NBA. His name? Michael Jordan.

The voice booms to the wall and back, “We will get rid of no athlete at any age, before — at earliest, 16 or 17 years old.”

Bigelow on winning:

He refers to a 1992 Michigan State report that asked athletes between the ages of 5 and 19 why they play sports. At the top of the list was: to have fun/playing time. In the 12 and below age group, winning ranked #12; for the older kids, it ranked 9th on the list. Children want to play.

“The pure fact of the matter is this: Ask any kid playing a contest, during that contest, do they want to win. They will all say “Yes, I want to win.” They are not going to say, “You know, Mr Bigelow, today I prefer to lose.” But ask them later why they play basketball, why they play soccer, why they play hockey, why they play tiddlywinks, and I guarantee you, “I play to win and I play to win only,” will never cross their lips.”

“And how do I prove this to you? Simple. You have 40 million of them playing. Don’t you think if winning was so important to these kids, we’d be losing them left and right from these sporting events? Because let’s face it, every time you play a game someone wins and someone loses. And math will tell you that some of these kids are going to lose a lot of games. If it was really so painful, and all they did was play to win, we’d be lopping them off at a great rate. But for some reason, kids keep coming back — even if they lose games.”

Bigelow busting the myth:

“This is the bubble-burster. So many adults whose 7-year-olds, 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds seem to be ahead of the pack athletically — and because they are, this, of course, is a good predictor of how good this kid is going to be when he or she is 16, 18, 20 — high school varsity status — college scholarship … maybe. This is where I don’t let anybody in this country down easy because the science has been done for a hundred years. Your child, my child, anybody’s child — his or her athletic ability prior to puberty is a meaningless indicator of that same child’s athletic ability post-puberty. Meaningless!"

“More, more, more, better, better, better means greater, greater, greater, later, later, later. It’s the biggest myth and the biggest freaking crock of all. My professional mission the past 20 years has been to throw harpoons at that myth.”

Next Week: Part Two — When parents, who only want to win, enter the equation.


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