The Power Of Sports 101

There were probably few people in America who didn’t see at least a glimpse of the Little League World Series on television this past summer. What everyone saw, for the most part, was a mini-version of Major League Baseball–the uniforms, manicured fields, scoreboards and stands full of spectators. What they didn’t see was the social experience it created for the kids. We take it for granted, but for kids, this was an experience that will stay with them beyond the days they put baseball gloves on their hands.

While I have always questioned the “baseball” side of having a championship for kids, the value of the social experience outweighs the inequities of having an early-maturing 12-year-old who weighs 170 pounds play against a late-maturing 12- year-old who weighs a mere 70 pounds.

Just Hanging Out

On my way to attend Cal Ripken’s and Tony Gwynn’s inductions to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I flew with a group of kids from California, also on their way to Cooperstown, but not for the Hall of Fame inductions. They were going there to participate in the Cooperstown Baseball World tournament. There were 96 teams who competed each week at this venue throughout the summer. So I asked the 12-year-old kid sitting next to me how he felt about traveling all the way from California to play baseball in Cooperstown for a week. His comment was: “It’s awesome; I did it last year and I’m hoping that I’ll see many of the same kids I met last year. We just had so much fun hanging out.”

That said it all to me. He didn’t mention baseball once. He, like so many kids, simply can, through sports, gain something that many children are unable to do, i.e., use sports as a social opportunity. I remember that, during a speaking engagement for the U.S. Army Child and Welfare division in Germany several years ago, a woman came up after my session and told me how important sports were for children of the military. She and her family had to move from base to base throughout their career, and sports helped the children adjust. She stated that with each transfer they would simply go to the base sports directors to sign their kids up for whatever sports were available for that season, and they made instant friends.

Beyond The Scoreboard

The social benefits sports bring to programs is not always automatic. They can be destroyed by leagues whose only focus is on scoreboards, standings, championships and all-star teams, while never stopping to think about why kids are there in the first place. Look at any sports league for youth, and you’ll note that 20 percent of the kids are true athletes, while 80 percent are there simply to satisfy their parents, or more so, because their best friends signed up to play.

They are there for social reasons, not just the particular sport offered. And that is why leagues need to be educated. National Alliance for Youth Sports has created orientation programs for league directors–the National Youth Sports Administrators Association–which focus on helping volunteer youth leagues understand the serious role and responsibilities of making sports a positive and safe experience for all children.

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at fengh@nays.org

—————–SIDEBAR————-

NYSAA Program Assists Administrators In Running Top-Quality Programs

Overseeing a youth sports program poses a wide variety–and a lengthy list–of challenges. Today’s volunteer youth sports administrators must deal with everything from recruiting coaches and volunteers, to fundraising and risk management.

The National Youth Sports Administrators Association (NYSAA), a membership organization of the National Alliance For Youth Sports, has been assisting volunteer administrators across the country in running top-quality programs that don’t stray from what’s best for the youngsters. NYSAA provides training, information and resources for volunteer administrators, such as league presidents, boards, commissions and representatives. The NYSAA program works to help administrators set and maintain high standards for their youth league for the benefit of the children in their care.

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