The Right Start…Start Smart
Start Smart Programs, created by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, help kids get ready for sports…and succeed in life. It is an innovative step-by-step approach that builds confidence and self-esteem in a fun and safe sports environment.
Start Smart offers two distinct types of programming with curriculum specifically designed for the following groups:
Recreation Agencies: Start Smart Sports Development Programs provide recreation agencies with a comprehensive motor skill development program that can be implemented easily. Programs include Baseball, Basketball, Football, Golf, Soccer, Tennis and a general skill development program. Click on the logo for more information.
Parents/Guardians: Start Smart at Home is a new program that provides parents/guardians with an opportunity to develop their child's sports skills from the comfort of their own home and around their own schedule. Click on the logo for more information.
Program Highlights: Click on a link to read a Start Smart feature story!
Start Smart Lacrosse now offered to youth sports programs
Start Smart creates lasting relationships at Tinker Air Force Base
Boone County Parks uses Start Smart to help guide children to a fun-filled youth sports experience
Start Smart Tennis unveiled
Start Smart Lacrosse now offered to youth sports programs
Start Smart is excited to add Start Smart Lacrosse to its suite of youth development sports programs. Youth lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing organized sports in America. A 2013 survey conducted by US Lacrosse, the governing body of lacrosse, reported that out of a record 722,000 lacrosse players across the country last year, 403,000 of them were children under 15, almost double the number in 2006.
Lacrosse, invented by Native Americans centuries ago in what is modern-day Canada, is a fun way for youngsters to develop hand-eye coordination while getting great cardiovascular benefits. Start Smart Lacrosse introduces children ages 3-5 to the sport while supporting their still-developing motor skills.
Start Smart Lacrosse participants practice activities to build common skills and abilities used in lacrosse, such as passing and shooting, catching, stick handling and running and agility in a non-competitive environment.
For example, at the stick handling station, children learn horizontal and vertical cradling techniques. First, they learn and practice the motions of the cradles without a ball. Once they are comfortable with that, they practice the cradles while slowly walking. After that skill is performed correctly, a ball is introduced. Each week the stick handling activities progress in difficulty and the children will learn how to control their stick and the ball while moving at faster speeds, how to protect the ball from a defender and build offensive skills.
Start Smart Lacrosse pilots were held at select sports programs throughout the country late last year. “We were excited to be selected as a pilot site for Start Smart Lacrosse,” said Jeff Berthney, chief of recreation for Harford County Parks and Recreation (Md.). “We have had tremendous success with the other Start Smart programs and after seeing the programming for lacrosse, we know it is going to be a great addition to our programming here in Harford County.”
Start Smart Lacrosse is now offered publicly to youth sports programs. To learn more, preview a sample of a lacrosse session, and order materials to hold Start Smart Lacrosse in your community, simply email our office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other sports that are part of the Start Smart Sports Development Programs include baseball, basketball, football, golf, soccer and tennis.
Start Smart creates lasting relationships at Tinker Air Force Base
At Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Okla., Start Smart is helping its youth program place a greater emphasis on giving youngsters in the community a positive start in sports.
“Starting children out with the right mindset toward sports has become increasingly important,” said Jacquanna Whitfield, youth sports director of Tinker Youth Programs. “We want to teach them basic fundamentals and having fun while playing increases their chances of leading an active lifestyle.”
While there are programs through the local YMCA and Boys and Girls Club that older kids can take part in, most of the leagues don’t have anything specifically tailored to the 3-4 year old age group, which many parents in the military community are interested in.
Whitfield found that Start Smart programs are simple enough for young children to understand, but challenging enough to progress their skills.
“The curriculum teaches the sports in a way that young minds can grasp and understand,” she said. “Because Start Smart is a gradual and comfortable approach to sports, it slowly builds the children’s confidence while enhancing their self-esteem.”
Since Start Smart is a parent-child participation program, the parents are the ones teaching, playing and most importantly, bonding, with their child. “During this time the parents are also learning daily parenting skills, in addition to being excellent sports parents,” said Whitfield. “Those who have participated in Start Smart seem to be more patient and understanding as their children progress into more competitive leagues.”
Over the past year, Tinker Youth Programs had approximately 150 parent-child groups sign-up for Start Smart programming for flag football, soccer, basketball, golf and baseball.
“Through Start Smart we have built relationships with these families, making our programs even more personable to them,” Whitfield said. “These lasting relationships benefit our older leagues because most families grow with our programs as their children grow.”
Boone County Parks uses Start Smart to help guide children to a fun-filled youth sports experience
In 2000, Boone County (Ky.) Parks was looking for a motor skills development class that their youngest participants could be involved in.
They chose the Start Smart Sports Development Program offered by the National Alliance for Youth Sports because it’s a general motor skills program that covered skills like catching, throwing and kicking in a way that is fun and friendly to children ages 3-5.
“We started with one morning class and one evening class for a seven-week session in the summer,” said Paul Ankenbauer, program planner for Boone County Parks.
Beginning participation consisted of 26 parent-child groups.
“The parents loved the program and wanted more,” Ankenbauer said. “We received permission to use the multi-purpose room at a local middle school so we could hold classes in late fall and winter.”
By 2008 Boone County was offering Start Smart basketball. “After all,” he says, “we are in Kentucky!”
Boone County also began to offer soccer and golf, as well as continue to offer the basic Sports Development program. Slightly more than a decade later, they average 120 parent-child groups each year.
“I think that programs like Start Smart are great because the kids learn the motor skills they need to participate in youth sports, plus the parents have a guide to help maximize their child’s potential,” Ankenbauer said.
He reports that many of their Start Smart participants go on to play in the county’s sports offerings, which are T-Ball and machine pitch baseball.
Studies have shown that nearly half of youngsters do not have the basic skills necessary to enter into organized sports, which could lead to low confidence in their play, or even dropping out of sports altogether.
“Having the proper skills lead to players having more success and more fun while playing a sport,” Ankenbauer says.
Start Smart Supplemental Activities and Games Latest Addition to Program
At park and recreation agencies across the country and military bases around the world, children are participating in Start Smart programs developed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in response to a growing trend of children as young as 3 years old entering the world of organized sports. However, at this age children are still developing their motor skills and are too young to participate in organized sports. During a Start Smart session, children go to different stations where they practice exercises that help them develop motor skills and sport fundamentals to help prepare them for a smooth transition into organized sports in the future.
Recently, NAYS has developed an addition to Start Smart, the Supplemental Activities and Games program, designed to enhance children’s experiences with Start Smart programming through games like the playground classic Red Light/Green Light, among others.
Recreation professionals have flexibility to use the program in the way that best meets the needs of their participants. They can implement the supplemental program as a standalone program to follow up on what children learned in Start Smart or to enhance the exercises at each station, and they have the freedom to modify the games and activities to best suit the skills or age level of the group.
According to the Town of Hamburg (N.Y.) Recreation Department, Start Smart’s new Supplemental Activities and Games program is the “frosting on the cake” that complements their current Start Smart offerings. “Using the supplemental program has increased the number of activities we can utilize at each station and puts more fun into the learning process,” said Tim Jerome, recreation specialist at the Town of Hamburg.
“I believe these activities not only reinforce the skills for the children, but also break the monotony of the same drills used over and over,” said Garrett Pearson, recreation specialist at the West Boynton Park and Recreation Center (Fla.).
While the Start Smart program helps children develop the coordination skills essential for everyday living as well as playing sports, it’s also set up for the child and parent to spend time together. Parents are given the instructions and materials needed to guide them in coaching their child through the Start Smart program. By working together, the parent and child have an opportunity to bond as well as learn together.
“The parents in our program like the supplemental activities, too,” said Jerome. “We want them to have fun so they will be encouraged to keep their child involved in our Start Smart programming.”
Pearson adds, “I hope that the program will teach parents that exposure to different sports can enhance the skills of another.”
Start Smart Tennis unveiled
The Start Smart Sports Development Programs has unveiled Start Smart Tennis as its newest sport-specific program. Start Smart Tennis joins the other sport-specific programs of baseball, basketball, football, golf and soccer, as well as the general skill development program.
The City of Leesburg (Fla.) and the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Youth Sports (Calif.) recently served as pilot sites for Start Smart Tennis – and both programs were met with resounding success.
“We’re extremely pleased to see our first Start Smart Tennis programs run so smoothly and have such a positive impact on the young participants and their parents,” said Andy Parker, director of the Start Smart Sports Development Programs. “Tennis is quickly becoming a popular sport among youth in this country once again and we certainly are looking forward to watching Start Smart Tennis help fuel enthusiasm for the sport and play a role in growing a new generation of young tennis players.”
Similar to other Start Smart sports-specific programs, Start Smart Tennis is a developmentally appropriate introductory tennis program for children ages 5-7. The program prepares children for organized tennis in a fun, non-threatening environment without the threat of competition or the fear of getting hurt. Age appropriate equipment from Head® and Penn® is used in teaching ground strokes, serving, volleying and running/agility.
The program features four different stations, where children can learn about and practice various aspects of the game. Children are taught to master simple tennis skills, such as balancing a tennis ball on their racket while moving in different directions, bouncing the ball on their racket as many times as possible, hitting the ball in midair in the direction of their parent, and negotiating an agility course created by the coaches before the session.
Like all Start Smart programs, Start Smart Tennis is designed for the children to work one-on-one with a parent or guardian in a safe, pressure-free environment.
Start Smart Tennis is now available in the traditional Start Smart group setting or in the new Start Smart At Home format (www.shop.nays.org).
For more information on Start Smart Tennis, or any of the other Start Smart programs available, click on the Start Smart link on the left-hand side of the home page. (back to top)
Start Smart Basketball scores a slam
dunk with Brunswick Parks and Recreation’s (Maine) multi-level program
Community teaches youth basketball through progressive system of advancement
Oftentimes a child’s first sports experience is through an organized community league. Unfortunately, these first-timers are often forced into competitive situations without first receiving a proper introduction on the correct skills and movements needed to effectively play that sport.
To give a child the best chance at succeeding in, and enjoying, a particular sport, a proper age-appropriate period of instruction is crucial. Rather than simply throwing them out on the court and then keeping score, experts agree that the best way to start kids out in sports is through a progressive program of varying levels.
With the help of the Start Smart Sports Development program, this is exactly what the youth basketball players of Brunswick Parks and Recreation (Maine) experience when they sign up to shoot some hoops.
“We want parents to understand how kids learn gross motor skills and how they can teach them,” said Aaron Cropley, program assistant for Brunswick Parks and Recreation.
Brunswick Parks and Recreation tiers their basketball program into progressive levels based on age, so naturally the Start Smart program is a perfect fit for their beginning level.
“We think it’s a great way to introduce parents and kids to the world of sports in a way that allows the parents to understand how kids learn sports,” Cropley said.
Basketball beginners ages 3-5 start with Start Smart Basketball. Like all Start Smart programs, kids learn skills and movements in a non-competitive, educational environment with the help of mom or dad. Specially modified equipment for the children helps to instill fundamentals and proper technique.
“That’s one of the nice things about the Start Smart program is that it allows for progression,” Cropley said. “We have parents whose reason they do it is to spend time with their child.”
After that, first and second graders advance to Brunswick’s “Kids on the Court” program. Here, children take turns visiting drill stations set up on a basketball court that focus on recreating game situations and developing various skills.
Third and fourth graders play organized games, although no score is kept. Beyond that are competitive leagues played on full size basketball courts. By the time a child reaches that level, they are more than ready to test out what they have learned out on the court.
Because basketball is one of the few sports that can be played during cold Maine winters, indoor basketball is a very popular sport in the area. Luckily, Start Smart is a comprehensive program that is easy to start up anywhere.
“The real benefit for us as a department is it’s sort of like one-stop shopping,” Cropley said. “The instructions are easy to follow and the equipment is age appropriate, so it just makes it easy to adopt the program.”
Although Cropley advertises that Start Smart clinics consist of 12 parent-child groups, oftentimes that number doubles. Luckily, the trusted staff at Brunswick Parks and Recreation is always quick to offer instructors a helping hand when needed.
“We’re pretty active as a recreation department, we do a lot of youth sports,” Cropley said. “We’ve been doing Start Smart long enough now that we’re getting the same kids coming back, but they’re doing it earlier.”
The way in which Brunswick Parks and Recreation utilizes Start Smart is a perfect example of how easily it can be implemented into any existing youth program. All Brunswick had to do was order the manuals and equipment and Start Smart fit right in.
Redstone Arsenal Youth Sports and
Fitness (Ala.) youngsters getting proper introduction to sports
Army base uses Start Smart to meet parent
demand for sports programming for the younger children
Mike Gates, Child, Youth and School Services (CYSS) sports and fitness director for Redstone Arsenal (Ala.), says that most parents living on his army base want to see their children playing organized sports as early as possible. However, Gates has never been a big fan of placing kids into stressful, competitive situations at a very young age. So, he uses the Start Smart Sports Development programs instead – with great success.
Start Smart is perfect for communities like Redstone Arsenal’s because it provides an organized athletic activity for those enthusiastic sports parents and their children, but it does so in a non-competitive, educational atmosphere.
Gates regularly holds Start Smart programs in basketball, baseball and soccer for the 3- to 5-year-olds living on base – with soccer ranking as the most popular – and hopes to eventually add flag football and tennis.
“I think it is great for a child's first experience with organized sports,” Gates said. “I am a firm believer that as a society, our youth sports have gotten too competitive and the bulk of the children are not learning fundamentals. Kids, too often, learn to ‘play the game’ before they learn the fundamentals.”
Gates learned about Start Smart at a professional conference in 2003. Already facing demands for a sports program for younger children, Redstone Arsenal decided to give it a try. Years later, the program is thriving on the military base.
“A lot of the 3- and 4-year-olds would not be involved in anything if it weren't for Start Smart,” Gates said.
What makes Start Smart so unique is that it gets eager parents, like the ones at Redstone Arsenal, involved with their child’s sports experience. During the program parents move with their child throughout the different skill stations, helping them along the way.
“Most of the parents who have participated love the program and sign up for the next class,” Gates said. “Some are a little hesitant at first but usually end up liking the parent participation concept.”
Gates says that the children’s improvement at the end of the six-week program is always noticeable. Every group usually has a few standout future athletes who pick up the skills with relative ease. But Gates’ favorite part is when the kids who at first don’t want to participate don’t want to leave on the last day.
Start Smart has been an asset to Redstone Arsenal’s youth program in other ways, as well. Not only do young children now have a program of their own, but Start Smart is also enriching the older recreation leagues. Now that Redstone Arsenal has been running the program for several years, many of the early Start Smart participants have advanced to more competitive play.
Even though these young athletes have moved on, whenever they see Gates in public they still yell, “Hey Coach Mike!”
Start Smart exceeds expectations at Centre Region Parks & Recreation (Pa.)
Pennsylvania recreation program forced to create waiting list for popular youth sports skill development program
When Centre Region Parks & Recreation (Pa.) started using Start Smart Sports Development programs in 2005 they knew that they were addressing a need in their community. Although they were quite certain the program would be successful, they had no idea it would take off like it did.
“It has gone beyond what we anticipated. We have a waiting list for soccer every time it is offered,” said Jeff Hall, recreation supervisor for Centre Region Parks & Recreation. “We have more than 2,000 kids that play in our local youth leagues each year. Every time we offer soccer, which is about 10 classes per year, we have waiting lists.”
Hall looked to Start Smart after receiving multiple parent requests for an organized sports program for younger kids. Designed by top motor skill development specialists in the field of youth sports, Start Smart targets children ages 3-5 and the program provides them the chance to perform motor skill tasks that gradually build confidence, while having fun at the same time. So far, Centre Region has run Start Smart Golf, Football, Basketball and Soccer.
“We got involved to fill a need for kids entering local youth leagues,” Hall said. “We had parents asking about programs for younger children.”
Since introducing the program in his community, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
So far Hall is impressed with the progress his Start Smart participants are making.
“The knowledge the kids gain, as well as the parents, is invaluable when they move on to the youth leagues,” he said. “Most have more skills than the other kids in the leagues who didn’t participate in the Start Smart programs.”
Although soccer has been the most popular program, Hall has noticed the largest improvements in golf. Some children begin Start Smart Golf without having ever even touched a golf club before. By the time they’re done with the program they’ve learned how to swing properly and are versed on all golf history, rules and etiquette.
Although Hall is pleased that his community is helping to raise better athletes, he’s still all about the fun and participation.
“The best part is when a parent comes up to me and says, ‘Thanks, my son/daughter really enjoyed this program,’” he said.
Start Smart a perfect fit at MacDill AFB
MacDill Air Force Base has been using the Start Smart Sports Development Programs with great success since 1994
Like many American military bases, MacDill Air Force Base (Fla.) has long been an avid supporter and member of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). Since 1988 they have been training their youth sports coaches through NAYS’ volunteer coaches education program, the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA).
Always eager to try new programs offered by NAYS, MacDill began using the Start Smart Sports Development Programs in 1994. Nearly 15 years later, Start Smart is still going strong at MacDill and the older sports leagues are reaping the benefits.
“Start Smart allows me to introduce youth sports and skill acquisition at an early age,” said Steve Bowlin, youth sports and fitness director for MacDill Air Force Base. “I can see the difference in the skill ability of those kids who participated in Start Smart before they begin our sports leagues.”
Many U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine bases utilize this innovative program that offers sports skills instruction while also providing a valuable bonding experience for parents and children.
The program has proven to be a perfect fit for military bases, in part because of its structured curriculum and its comprehensive package of instructional equipment and materials. Because youth sports leagues are often so popular on military bases, military parents like the idea of their children getting started with sports the right way.
“I think it’s definitely a good opening for children and parents as well,” said Bowlin. “The key is to keep it exciting for both.”
Start Smart provides a great way for children living on military bases to interact with other kids, as well as an opportunity for parents to interact with other adults. Because military families are so often athletically minded, the program also provides an invaluable foundation for maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle.
MacDill currently utilizes Start Smart Soccer, Basketball and Baseball, with soccer ranking as the most popular.
“Soccer is the biggest program that I have,” Bowlin said. “It seems that running and kicking is the easiest motor skill for a 3- to 4-year-old to accomplish. Soccer doesn’t require that a child be short or tall, it’s all about skill with the ball and running and kicking.”
Bowlin enjoys teaching the kids new skills, but points out that the program is also about acclimating adults to their role as a youth sports parent.
“I believe skill acquisition at an early age is good for any child and it leads to early success in youth sports,” he said. “It is also important in starting parents off on the right step toward becoming good coaches to their kids and placing the priority on participation and not winning. Our parents love the program and many wish it was longer than six weeks.”
Although soccer is the most popular sport, it seems as though baseball is the game in which the children have made the biggest strides. Bowlin noticed considerable improvement in the recognition of bases, where to throw the ball and how to hit off a tee.
At the conclusion of their Start Smart sessions children celebrate with a small party and receive “graduation” certificates.
By using Start Smart, MacDill Air Force Base is no doubt working to create a culture of healthy and educated athletes – something they deserve to be saluted for.