During the fall of 2005 the City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department staff in Texas began important discussions that would lead to reshaping the community’s youth sports landscape and positively impacting the lives of thousands of children.

Those talks were sparked by survey responses from their adult sports leagues in which more than 150 moms and dads wondered why the city didn’t provide recreational youth sports programming.

That feedback sparked discussion among staff, ignited ideas, led to a reshuffling of roles within the department, and eventually kicked off with recreational youth baseball and soccer beginning in the spring of 2008 accompanied by their program philosophy of “Playing is Winning.”

It also set the department on course to win the prestigious 2018 Excellence in Youth Sports Award, which is sponsored by BSN Sports.  

For almost two decades, the Excellence in Youth Sports Award has recognized programs that are doing superior jobs of conducting diverse activities with a focus on providing safe and positive experiences for all participants - including children, parents and coaches. Each year hundreds of youth sports programs across the country and military bases worldwide vie to be an award winner. Developed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business Magazine, the first Excellence in Youth Sports Awards were presented in 2000.

“Our participants are winning in social skills, teamwork and physical fitness while having fun,” says Wendy Parker, athletics director at the City of Arlington Parks and Recreation Department. “Arlington is an unparalleled example of the power that comes about when people care about their young citizens.”

With plenty of select and travel team opportunities throughout the city, the Arlington staff made their programs all about the kids – and making sure every one of them was having fun.

And what has transpired is remarkable.

Today, more than 7,000 children participate in its high-quality recreation programs. Plus, earlier this year the staff earned the Better Sports For Kids Quality Program Provider designation for providing a youth sports culture that is zeroed in on teaching important attributes like teamwork and social skills, promoting physical fitness, and making sure every step along the way is filled with fun.

Plus, the staff gets creative when it comes to program development.

“We offer some things that are just a little bit different, like our Tiny Tots Triathlon,” Parker says. “It is geared to that younger age group of 8 and under where they bring out their tricycles or bikes; they’ll run a little bit; and then for the water element we do water slides. I can tell you it’s a battle for mom and dad to get them off that water slide at the end of the day! We approach things a little bit differently. There’s a lot going on in our community, so we really have to think of things to do that are going to be outside the box.”     

The department’s “Playing is Winning” philosophy is a powerful program principle that is changing young lives every day.

“We definitely hit a homerun with our program philosophy,” Parker says. “In the past 10 years, Arlington has become more competitive in the youth sports arena. There is nothing wrong with that direction, but our department prefers to capture the other 95 percent that will never receive a college scholarship. We are building the love and passion for the game in hopes that these young players will become adult participants and then coaching their kids in our program. That is one of our goals through the ‘Playing is Winning’ design. Focus on the participant and a lifetime of sports adventures.”

Arlington’s youth sports programming includes a variety of options for kids ages 3 to 14, including soccer, t-ball, coach-pitch, volleyball, girls softball, lacrosse and basketball.

“Our program philosophy was adopted as a main principle and we have not wavered on its mission,” Parker says. “Our future success will be measured by our youth’s passion for lifelong sports and physical fitness. Winning the Excellence in Youth Sports Award means that we are viewed as a prestigious program that offers a wide array of sports and activities for all youth, regardless of their athletic ability. It also validates our ‘Playing is Winning’ program philosophy, which focuses on the participant.”

Thousands of young athletes throughout the community can attest to that.

“We’re hoping that they’ll come back as adults and play in our adult sports leagues,” Parker says. “One of our biggest things is to try and capture them young, bring them back as young adults, and then bring them back as parents and have some of them coach in our programs, which we currently do. In some of our programs, like our adult flag football, we have two and three generations that are playing in those leagues. So it’s really quite the honor to be able to impact that many generations.”

Excellence Award Arlington Philosophy

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