Innovative program having lasting impact in Orange County, N.C.

Innovative program having lasting impact in Orange County, N.C.

5/15/2018

For more than two decades now kids around the country have been hitting, kicking and catching colorful balls in specially designed sessions; learning key motor and sports skills; and having a terrific time doing so.

It’s all part of the Start Smart Sports Development Program, which has been held in thousands of communities nationwide and provided more than 150,000 children with the confidence and basic skills needed to help make that often daunting first step into the world of youth sports a less stressful and more rewarding one. And the success of the Orange County (N.C.) Department of Environment, Agriculture, Parks and Recreation is no exception.

“Start Smart is one of our most popular programs,” says Lee Barnes, recreation manager. “We like that it is set-up in a fun, friendly and non-threatening environment. It’s all about developing skills and having fun. There’s no competition and children are able to progress at their own pace.”

Start Smart has seamlessly slid into the program offerings of both large and small recreation agencies as it checks all those important boxes that recreation professionals must focus on when evaluating a program’s fit.

For starters, since it’s designed for kids ages 3 to 5, it fills a huge void for that tricky age range where agencies often struggle to offer quality programming. Add the easy-to-follow curriculum, coupled with the fact that parents participate alongside their child every step of the way, and it’s easy to see why the one-hour sessions are raved about in the community.

Start Smart features a general sports development program, as well as sport-specific programs for basketball, baseball, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer and tennis. Each program has six one-hour sessions, which take participants through four different skill stations each session. The baseball, basketball, football and soccer programs also include an additional two weeks of optional curriculum that focus on rules and game situations.

Children aren’t the only beneficiaries of the program, either. By being involved in the activities parents gain an inside peek at the best ways to coach and motivate kids, which translates to them being more knowledgeable about the sport and more likely to step forward to volunteer to coach in the agency’s programs.  

“Because the Start Smart program stresses the involvement and education of the participants’ parents, we have been able to recruit these parents as coaches and volunteers as their child grows and progresses into our other youth sport program offerings,” says Barnes. “Our Start Smart parents that transition into coaches have been with us for several years, so they have a great understanding of our program’s goals, values and expectations.”

Start Smart is one of many programs offered by the National Alliance for Youth Sports. For more information email startsmart@nays.org.

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