Getting Involved - Part 1 of 2
In our last message, we stressed the importance of helping kids from low income communities stay involved with youth sports. It's not just enough to get them to try a sport; but we need to make sure they stay involved with a sport. When you think about what draws kids out to events, having a celebrity or professional athlete making a guest appearance usually has great returns. When you see celebrities or professional athletes listed as a guest speaker, you are bound to see a large crowd of kids attending the event. This are great in that it draws kids to where you want them; but it's not sustainable as these events usually come at a high cost. Unfortunately, once the 'event' passes, the thrill or excitement from the youth gradually dissipates. You find yourself in a struggle to get the kids back to the field. The kids know that "so and so" isn't coming back. So, how can we keep the kids involved?
I believe that local College programs can help keep kids interested in the game. Yes, College programs can have a CONSISTENT and lasting impact on youth sports. Being a former collegiate baseball player and coach, I know this can be done, and in a way that does not take away from the college program getting their work done. In fact, having college programs getting more involved with local youth sports can help the college players grow as athletes and as people.
Here is how I think this can work using baseball as an example. College teams can partner with a local youth league. During the Fall and the Spring (yes, even in-season), Colleges can bring in a select number of youth players from the league for an hour on practice days. This could be before practice or after practice. College coaches can have as many players available as they'd like. I think it would be best to alternate players in batches of 10. This ensures that the team isn't inundated with working with kids each week. Each player can handle 8-10 players by themselves. Scatter the groups of 8-10 throughout the field and have each group work on specific drills for the hour. During the Spring, assuming you practice two days/week, this equates to 160-200 youth athletes served each week, and around 2,500 kids for the season. THAT IS A LOT OF KIDS! And imagine what can be done in the Fall when teams aren't playing games.
There are several benefits to the College program. First and foremost, this increases interest in the program. The more interaction a program has with the community, the more likely they will come out to games. Kids will have a sense of familiarity with the players and will want to see them play. It will also increase camp attendance. College camps are vital for the program as they generally contribute significantly to Assistant Coaches pay. From a player perspective, teaching the game also helps increase their learning. Many studies have shown that learning by teaching is an effective way to better understand content.
Now for the youth attending the sessions. This isn't a one-and-done scenario. Each kid will get a few opportunities to go out and work with the College programs. They will get multiple chances to interact with some very good baseball players. They will get multiple chances to work out at a college facility. It can help keep them motivated and working on their game in between sessions. It's ok if their motivation for playing for their youth league is to work out with the college teams because they are staying with the game. And that is the goal. Keep the kids playing. Too often kids quit before they ever realize their true potential. Too often kids quit before they realize the benefits of playing sports. So, there is nothing wrong with kids that only play because they get a few chances each year to work out with college athletes. By them sticking with the sport, they may begin to improve and actually begin to enjoy the sport.
If we truly care about keeping kids in the game, we have to look at all means of doing so. And hopefully this article sheds some light on how this can be done at the collegiate level and the benefits for both the youth and the collegiate programs. Our next article will focus on why High Schools should get more involved with youth sports in the community.