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Youth sports. You gotta love 'em. They are the only place parents can drop off their kids, never volunteer to help coach, and still believe they hold the right to criticize coaches and officials, who are volunteering their time so kids can have an opportunity to participate.

The reason this subject is being brought up is because of a story that was relayed to me earlier this week. A parent told me that his son was coaching a youth basketball team and he received three e-mails complaining about the way he was handling the team.

The parents even went as far as keeping track of the amount of court time each player received. C'mon folks, get a life. Let the kids enjoy the moment.

Everything that is right about youth sports — the organizing of teams, the teaching of fundamentals, the chance for kids to be a part of team, etc. — is wrong about youth sports.

Youth sports should be about having fun and making it a positive experience for the kids. It shouldn't be about Billy or Sally hearing his dad and/or mom complaining about the coach, the officials or how Billy's teammate made the turnover that lost the game.

It shouldn't be about Billy or Sally playing only because dad or mom wants them to play. Heck, half the time, it seems like parents only want their kids to play so they can show up at the office the following week and tell their co-workers about their future Hall of Famer.

What happened to the days when kids met at the ball field early in the morning, played until noon, went home for lunch, returned to the field an hour later and played until supper time?

It's sad, and society has changed, but you rarely see a group of neighborhood kids playing sandlot baseball, battling in a game of tackle football (without pads) in a big open lot, or shoveling the snow off the driveway to make it playable for a basketball game where kids wear winter coats and gloves so they can weather the elements.

Those are my memories of my days as a young athlete. We didn't have coaches or parents there to decide who was on what team, what the rules were going to be, whether it was a foul or fair ball or if there was a foul on the play.

We sorted it out and just played.

Illinois Wesleyan basketball coach Scott Trost and counterpart, Porter Moser at Illinois State, agree that "there are some fundamental lessons that you have to get across at that age," said Moser.

"Kids have to understand the fun of competing, the fun of working hard, listening. I don't think they need to learn about how to handle pressure at a young age. There is plenty of time to learn that."

Trost said there is no place for any anomosity or jealousy.

"It should be about kids going out there and letting them enjoy the sport," added Trost. "There will be plenty of time for competitiveness. Kids are going to try and win. That's human nature and a part of society, but there shouldn't be any pressure placed on them to win by the coaches or parents."

Illinois Wesleyan athletics director Dennie Bridges helped coach his kids when they were growing up and now he enjoys watching his grandchildren compete. But his attitude is pretty much the same as mine.

"There is way, way, way too much organization of all sports at way too young of an age," said Bridges. "It seems like they are organzing kids into teams when they should just be going out and playing for the fun of it.

"It would almost be good if you could have events where parents couldn't go. I understand parents wanting to be involved in their kid's events, which they should. But, at the same time, the parents should have fun and enjoy the moment too because that time frame is so short."

Bridges, who grew up in Anchor in rural McLean County, said he never played sports as a youngster thinking about a college scholarship.

"We played because it was the thing to do and everybody did it," he said.

It's too bad we can't return to those days.

Bryan Bloodworth is the sports editor. Contact him at bbloodworth@pantagraph.com

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