Oh, To Be Czar Of Youth Sports

Red-faced coaches screaming at officials, out-of-control parents and players kicking the ideals of good sportsmanship to the curb–Kyle Kebaugh saw it all as a young athlete.

Kyle Kebaugh

“I would say in my 11 years as a youth athlete, I saw my fair share of coaches and players who did not represent a quality level of sportsmanship on the playing field,” says Kebaugh, the sports coordinator for St. Mary’s recreation and parks in Maryland.

“So now I work to educate our coaches and parents on what true sportsmanship is, and take pride when I see it displayed in our community.”

St. Mary’s caters to more than 10,000 athletes ages 4 to 17, and offers indoor soccer, roller hockey, indoor field hockey, indoor lacrosse, gymnastics, cheerleading, tennis, and basketball. Volunteer youth leagues conduct more than a dozen other sports, ranging from baseball and cheerleading to wrestling and kickball.

With such a large program, the challenges of providing top-quality experiences are varied and many.

Kebaugh shared his department’s efforts to make a difference in the lives of children through sports:

What is the best display of good sportsmanship you have ever seen in your program?

Kyle: Prior to the start of basketball season, players complete an individual offensive-skill routine in front of coaches, other players, and parents to give coaches a chance to view players before teams are selected. There were about 150 kids in attendance, so the gym was packed. While all players are placed on teams, this day still can be nerve-wracking because of the kids’ exposure to everyone in the gym.

This particular age group consisted of 3rd and 4th graders, some of whom had never played organized sports before. The first child completed his routine, which consisted of dribbling, layups, and shooting. Afterward, parents, siblings, and players clapped and cheered. I was somewhat surprised because the player was no Michael Jordan.

Sure enough, every single child who played that day received a hearty round of applause no matter if they made all their shots or threw up air balls. The parents did not have to show this type of support, nor did they need to stay for the entire tryout, but almost everyone did, and the kids really seemed to brighten up after they left the court, knowing everyone was cheering for them.

Share a story that has made all your hard work and long hours worth it.

Kyle: Every year we provide program scholarships to county residents who are in financial hardship. Our department does not receive any financial assistance to aid low-income families, so we very much depend on our annual special events to raise funds to assist our participants.

Recreation and parks pays for 50 percent of registration costs for families in need. Each year, this equates to more than $6,000.

As a recreation professional, it touches my heart to know we are able to provide recreational opportunities to over 100 children who, without our help, may not be able to participate. Recreation should be a component in everyone’s lives, and I feel that every bit of help we can provide will truly make a difference for these families. It makes this job well worth the time and effort.

If you were made the czar of youth sports nationwide, what would be your first order of business to improve them?

Kyle: Safety is number one when it comes to youth sports. The best way to ensure a long and injury-free athletic career is to play it safe from the start. To reduce the risk of injuries and/or to make sure they are cared for properly, head coaches would be required to complete basic first-aid and CPR training.

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