Teaching The Basics

If your recreation department is like most, you have a number of facilities that have been built to satisfy the needs of the youth leagues in the community. But did you ever stop to compare these facilities and what they do for children with the nearby elementary schools?

Apples To Apples

You’re probably thinking, how can these two facilities even begin to compare to one another? If so, this has been the typical mindset towards recreation for years. Many people think that those in sports and recreation do little more than schedule games for kids, line the fields, and decide if the weather is suitable for playing the games that day, not to mention hope that the officials show up.

Of course, that’s clearly not the case. So, allow me to tell you why I feel recreation professionals are greatly unappreciated. Let’s consider a pyramid, where at the bottom is what it’s all about--the children. Elementary schools have children who go to school every day to learn various subjects.

Many of these same children, however, go out on the ballfields provided by recreation departments not just to play scheduled games but, more importantly, to learn how they can take those academic skills and use them in life, like the value of perseverance, winning and losing with grace, teamwork, and the list goes on. What children learn in sports carries over to getting a job, living in a community or choosing someone to marry. The same parents that take their kids to school are the ones sitting in the stands, either cheering them on or embarrassing them because they feel their child is not living up to their expectations.

An Even Playing Field

Teachers in school have degrees with an emphasis on childhood education, and here is where the comparisons begin to break down. The coaches of children on the field are, for the most part, parents coaching their child and others, with little training on what sports are all about for kids. The heads of these leagues, who serve on a board, are also parents with little education in child development, yet the school principal has a master’s or doctorate in childhood education. So, is it any wonder that we have problems in organized sports for children?

Communities need to look at recreation facilities as the “outdoor classroom,” and begin to demand that the organizers of leagues, the coaches and also the parents, together need a basic orientation on what value young people can gain from a well-run program. Recreation professionals are equal to the classroom teacher when looking at the overall development of children. All this can happen when communities review the “Recommendations for Communities,” which can be downloaded for free from the National Alliance For Youth Sports’ (NAYS) Web site at www.nays.org.

These recommendations are the result of a meeting at which NAYS gathered recreation professionals nationwide to gain their input on how communities can ensure the best possible environments for children’s participation.

In brief, the recommendations focus on three key areas for implementation:

-Adopt a community philosophy that makes youth sports safe and positive for children.

-Appoint a professional youth sports administrator to ensure adherence to the philosophy.

-Hold everyone associated with the program accountable for their behavior.

Yes, sports really are the outdoor classroom for 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