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New approach for youth sports

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i9 Sports, a national company with a new franchise in southeastern Gwinnett, is taking on the traditional environment of youth sports in hopes of providing a whole new ballgame very different from the hypercompetitive nature of traditional leagues.

Gary Williamson, owner of Gwinnett”s new i9 franchise (the county already had one franchise in the northern section of the county), says the company is currently offering flag football and cheerleading this summer. Over the next year, he plans to begin offering lacrosse, soccer, basketball and track and field.

"We are very excited about offering the i9 Sports experience in southeastern Gwinnett County," says i9 Sports CEO Frank Fiume, Jr.

Williamson points to an enlightening study of youth sports leagues by the University of Minnesota showing that up to 90 percent of children in some leagues don”t get enough playing time and are turned off by overly-competitive sports leagues.

"The older and more traditional Pop Warner-type leagues are getting stale," Williamson says.

"The reason is because of the hypercompetitive nature of those leagues. A lot of the children aren”t really involved and are spending too much time on the sidelines."

The problem, he says, isn”t the top athletes who know early on which sports they want to focus on. Instead, youngsters are discouraged from trying new sports they”re unfamiliar with because coaches and leagues won”t take the time to develop their skills.

"The league itself has a very unique philosophy," says Williamson. "Everybody gets to play. It”s more a developmental or instructional kind of league than a competitive league like what you usually find around here, so the kids learn and advance their skill capabilities."

Part of the attraction, Williamson says, is that the leagues are streamlined to make the commitment easier on parents. i9″s website tracks allows parents to register online, look up standings and statistics, read team news and view game photos. Practices and games are merged into a single weekly session.

"We don”t believe parents should be running all over town. We”re a one-stop shop," he says. "The kids will come out one time per week, they”ll have a scheduled practice and then a game. It really makes it easier for parents."

The league”s coaches, who undergo background checks, are trained to make sure young athletes who display good sportsmanship are rewarded.

"We”ve heard so many complaints from parents, especially in tackle football leagues, that their kids are only playing on the kickoff team, for instance," Williamson says. "In our league, we have a policy that kids play at 50 percent of the time. That way, they”re constantly on the field and always a part of the action, not sitting on the sideline."

No matter what sport your love, Gwinnett has it! For a comprehensive listing of recreational sports leagues in your neighborhood, browse the Wiki Gwinnett Sports directory!