This has been a tremendous year for the youth sports staff at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) Youth Sports Program in Alaska. A joint base merger and a wealth of updates to their programming and facilities have provided both challenges and opportunities to offer a high quality youth sports program to local families.
And topping it off JBER Youth Sports is one of five Excellence in Youth Sports Award winners.
“The biggest challenge we faced this year was the merger between Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson,” according to Paul Caron, JBER Youth Sports & Fitness director. Caron was presented the award by NBA great Bill Walton during the annual Youth Sports Congress in Orlando in December.
The Excellence Award, presented in part with Athletic Business
magazine, recognizes youth sports programs that are doing superior jobs of conducting diverse activities with a focus on providing safe and positive experiences for the children, parents and coaches involved.
They had to break down the “us versus them” attitude that has been going on between the bases for years.
“We deliberately created our teams with both Army and Air Force coaches and mixed the teams with children from both services,” Caron said. Taking further consideration in integrating the two bases, games and practices are scheduled evenly on both bases to keep things fair.
Caron reports that they hardly have any complaints about the merger anymore. “Now, the kids, coaches and parents have built up friendships with both services – it’s not a divided community anymore,” he said. “We have put a lot of effort into improving our programs.”
He found that introducing new sports like volleyball, cheerleading for flag football and bringing back Little League All-Stars, in addition to the merger, has increased participation in the program. Some sports boast an increase as high as 45 percent. They have more than 1,500 youngsters playing on their teams.
Another factor may be the effort JBER Youth Sports has put into providing a better product. They now have paid scorekeepers, umpires and referees contracted for each of their sports. “It helps to have an experienced official controlling the game,” said Caron. “Parents tend to believe an official about a questionable play more than another parent.”
Caron also credits recruiting and training volunteer coaches for their success. JBER Youth Sports uses the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA) to train their coaches. Offered by the National Alliance for Youth Sports, NYSCA provides a thorough education on topics such as 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. Since 2010, they have trained more than 400 volunteer youth sports coaches.
In addition to using professional officials, JBER Youth Sports also uses their coaches to ensure smooth games. The back of their coaches’ shirts list three simple adult rules for youth sports: “1. Make it FUN! 2. Set a good example! 3. Cheer for everyone!”
“I have witnessed coaches deal with parents being a little loud just by pointing to the back on their shirt, and that worked,” said Caron.
Even though JBER Youth Sports has gone through many changes this year does not mean that they do not have more plans for improvement in the future. “I try to introduce something new every year,” said Caron.
Next year they are planning to try the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick camp, the NFL Play 60 Program and possibly an Olympics-style “sports day” with track and field events.