Give Thanks: Youth Sports That Get It Right
It's the season for giving thanks – for family and friends, three-day weekends, treks to the farmer's market and Seinfeld reruns. This year I'm starting a new tradition and tipping my coach's cap to four youth sports organizations that do amazing things for kid players.
Miracle League: All kids should have a chance to swing for the fences, especially those with physical challenges. Because of Miracle League, that's happening. Started in 1997, the Miracle League's mission is helping kids with disabilities play sports just like able-bodied kids. Baseball diamonds are custom-designed for players who circle the bases in wheelchairs and on walkers. Rules are a little different too. Every player bats once each inning. All players are safe on the bases. Each team and each player wins every game.
Playworks: The economic crisis has squeezed school budgets. Gym teachers are a luxury. Playground time has been trimmed. Enter Playworks, a national nonprofit with a clever approach to getting kids into sports. In low-income schools, Playworks coaches become full-time teachers and mentors. They organize after-school sports leagues and put the fun back in recess – teaching kids old favorites like kickball and double-dutch jump rope. Principals love the program because, after exercise, kids return to classes calmer and better behaved
Wildcat Baseball: The closest thing to a perfect youth sports organization? Quite possibly the Wildcat Baseball League in Fort Wayne, Ind. The league's registration fee – just $8 – buys a cap, T-shirt and a season of fun. Younger players get four strikes if they need that many. Often, games pause for a minute while coaches offer pointers to players in the field. There are no night games to disrupt family dinners. The only trophies for individual accomplishment go to players who rack up perfect attendance. Is that perfect, or what?
Soccer in the Streets: The name tells all. In 75 cities around the country, Soccer in the Streets has turned playgrounds and parking lots into cool sports venues. Schools and community groups, mostly located in inner cities, supply the kid players. The nonprofit contributes soccer balls, goals and trains adults in the neighborhood as coaches. Most times, the results are terrific. In one school aligned with Soccer in the Streets, peer conflict among young players decreased 81 per cent. "A lot of these kids have the weight of the world on their shoulders. They don't know what, if anything, they'll have for dinner that night," says Soccer in the Streets executive director Jill Robbins. "For us to let them come out and be kids for a change, to not worry about who is going to get an advantage over them, that's worth a lot."
ParentDish sports reporter Mark Hyman is the author of "Until It Hurts: America's Obsession With Youth Sports and How It Harms our Kids" (Beacon Press).
Have a suggestion for an article on youth sports? Contact Mark at email@example.com.
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