Activities and programs at Botetourt County (Va.) Parks, Recreation and Tourism are developed around putting the children first. When new activities and options are added to the youth sports program, the impact on the youngsters served is always examined first.
"Children are our future. We nurture and sculpt them to be the next generation of coaches and administrators," says Angie Crawford, program coordinator at Botetourt County Parks, Recreation and Tourism. "Whether it is physically, mentally or emotionally, children participating in our programs carry life lessons that will last them a lifetime."
That's why Botetourt County added indoor soccer and indoor lacrosse to its youth sports offerings earlier this year. After noticing citizens spending time and money to participate in indoor soccer leagues in surrounding areas, Botetourt saw an opportunity to better serve their community. "It was a chance to involve a large number of children while encouraging children to work on the essentials of soccer and to keep children moving," says Crawford.
The department decided to offer indoor soccer during the winter and spring months to complement the outdoor soccer fall season. The indoor soccer program is offered on Sundays as to not interfere with the practice and game schedules of traditional sports. The minimal commitment of both time and fees for indoor soccer welcomes more families to participate.
Indoor lacrosse is offered to meet the needs of the community as well. Soft lacrosse is offered as a co-ed sport with minimal equipment to purchase. This, paired with a Sunday-only offering encourages more families with either time or financial constraints to participate in Botetourt County's youth sports program.
"Our citizens seem quite happy with the additional offerings and continue to look for more," Crawford says. She says that Botetourt County is currently researching the possibility of offering volleyball programs for both children and adults.
Training of Botetourt County's volunteer coaches is a crucial element of supporting their child-first philosophy and creating a child-focused environment. "Training helps the adults understand the atmosphere we encourage in our youth leagues," Crawford said. Both head coaches and assistant coaches are required to complete training offered by the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA), a program of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.
"As the lives of our children get faster and more complicated, so does the lives of the volunteers of our program. We understand that one person is not always available to oversee the practices and games of each team," Crawford says. "When the head coach is unable to be present, the assistant coach is authorized to run the activity. It is important to us that the coaches running the activity are trained and screened for the safety of our children."
NYSCA training provides a thorough education on topics like the psychology of coaching youth sports, communication, child abuse, injury prevention, nutrition and hydration, as well as skills and drills specifically applicable to the sport that the coach is teaching.
Parents are also required to sign a parent's code of ethics in order for their child to participate in the program. The code of ethics emphasizes the modeling of sportsmanship, remembering that youth sports should be fun for the youngsters and doing their part to keep each player safe.
Botetourt County also provides t-shirts that mirror the acceptable - and expected - behavior of adults during games and practices. The t-shirts simply read: "I will keep my anger in check, understand that these are volunteers, be held accountable, remember that the game is for the child and have fun!"
"During each of my coaches' meetings, I start off with the exact words from this t-shirt," Crawford SAYS. "Some coaches laugh, but they get it. This visible reminder seems to help calm down some of the outrageous behaviors we face as youth sports administrators. Since developing this t-shirt in December of 2012, I have had numerous compliments on the message of the shirt and the remarks are mostly the same, if everyone acted in this fashion it would make youth sports a lot more enjoyable for all. This is my reminder to the adults of our program."
|Story written by Linda Alberts, public relations coordinator for the National Alliance for Youth Sports.