Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Start Smart: Sports Development Is a Start Smart for Children

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Start Smart: Sports Development Is a Start Smart for Children

Article excerpt

Millions of children enter organized sports programs athletically unprepared every year, often with disastrous results. Shattered confidence and crushed self-esteem are some of the side effects children suffer when they are unable to meet the expectations of coaches, parents and especially themselves. This rapidly growing problem exists because children aren't being taught basic athletic skills before stepping on the playing field.

Thankfully, park and recreation departments nationwide are coming to the rescue through the Start Smart Sports Development Program, an exciting and innovative approach to helping children as young as three years old learn and develop basic motor skills - like throwing, catching, kicking, and hitting - with their parents.

A recent partnership between NRPA and Start Smart has opened the door for parks and recreation departments nationwide to offer the program to their communities. "It's a wonderful opportunity for parents and children to work together on sports skills in a structured setting that's non-competitive and non-threatening," says Joni O'Toole, program coordinator for the Glastonbury (CT) Parks and Recreation Department which recently conducted the Start Smart program. "Parents know it's a safe program and the type of equipment that's used is perfect for this age, colorwise and safety-wise and that's a big draw for the kids."

Start Smart was developed by Lifetime Sports and Fitness for Youth, a division of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, a nonprofit organization based in West Palm Beach, Florida, that works for safe and meaningful sports for America's youth. The eight-week program was designed around a national study conducted at Northern Kentucky University which found that an alarming 49% of children lack even the minimum athletic skills needed to participate in organized sports.

"There was a noticeable difference in their skills after just one week," said Paul Radcliffe of Naples, Florida, who took his five- and three-year olds through the program. "I came home from work one day and my wife said, `you better check this out,' and I watched them playing and they were a lot more coordinated. It's a great program and they enjoyed every minute of it."

By working one-on-one with their child and rotating through the various skill stations, parents are able to improve their child's proficiency, distance and accuracy. The stations are altered each week to account for the child's progress. The program utilizes the popular Koosh equipment which has proven to be exceptional in the motor skill development of children. The colorful products are made of soft materials so the children won't be hurt or be afraid of getting hurt.

Start Smart has had far-reaching success across the country. It builds confidence, increases self-esteem, develops motor and social skills, promotes fun, encourages learning and - most importantly - the parents are there right alongside their child's every throw, catch and kick of the way.

* In Atlanta, site of the '96 Summer Olympics, 25 children ages three to five participated with their parents in the Start Smart Junior program. "It was a huge success," said Program Coordinator Cindy Peterson, who is currently conducting her second program in the past four months.

* In North Carolina, Buddy Collins participates with his four-year-old son at the Kernersville Family YMCA. "Children who don't have the motor skills are afraid to participate and afraid to fail," he said. …

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