Start Smart programs a big hit at Polk City Parks and Recreation

Start Smart programs a big hit at Polk City Parks and Recreation


When Jason Thraen stepped in to lead the Polk City Parks and Recreation Department in Iowa, one of his first moves was rolling out the popular Start Smart Sports Development Programs in the community.

And they have been a big hit with families ever since.

“I was hired as the department’s first full-time director and was tasked with providing year-round recreation programming,” Thraen says. “I am very familiar with Start Smart programs, as I have offered them for other municipalities during my career. I have always found great value offering Start Smart. Participants regularly improve coordination, socialization, and confidence so bringing Start Smart to Polk City was a no brainer.”

Thraen recognized that the recreation department, founded in March of 2020, needed a fun, family-focused activity for young children to start building their love for sports.   

“An introductory program for 3- to 5-year-olds was missing in the Polk City community,” he says. “Parents were impressed with the organization, skills progression, and no-pressure atmosphere that Start Smart provides.”

Start Smart helps develop key motor skills that make the transition into organized sports a smoother one for children. Plus, one of the many attractive features of the program is that mom and dad participate alongside their child as they navigate the fun-filled activities that ramp up in difficulty from week to week as skills improve and confidence blossoms.

“I love comparing kids on the first day of a program to the final day,” says Thraen, who is also a Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA). “The difference always amazes me. Not only have they learned or improved skills, but their overall coordination has also improved. I also enjoy seeing the confidence developed over the program, and the socialization Start Smart programs provide.”


During the summer Start Smart Soccer was conducted in Polk City. While there was lots of fun and skill development, oftentimes the greatest growth is seen in how kids’ personalities and self-esteem evolve from week to week as they become more comfortable interacting in group settings.

“The parent of a very shy participant was amazed at the progress of her child during our Start Smart Soccer program,” Thraen explains. “Her child barely participated and was very timid on Day One. By the final day, her child was always in the middle of the action! Additionally, her socialization with fellow participants and instructors had increased substantially.”

Following the success of Start Smart Soccer, youngsters and their families enjoyed Start Smart Football in early fall; and in December kids will take the court for a Start Smart Basketball program that’s on tap. Plus, Thraen says he plans on offering Start Smart Baseball next May.

“I enjoy the simplicity of Start Smart,” he says. “For an introductory program, Start Smart is spot on. The skills and drills are easy to follow, but also provide the opportunity for improvement. The involvement of the parents is key. It adds a level of comfort for the participants, while also providing instructor support. Most of the skills are also easily modified, if need be, for different ability levels, too.”

Through the years Thraen has seen first-hand how impactful Start Smart can be on young lives – in both their physical and social development – and he encourages recreation leaders to include it in their program offerings.

“I’d challenge other municipalities to offer Start Smart programs if they aren’t already,” he says. “It is a great addition to your seasonal brochures; it brings credibility; and it provides a wonderful learning experience for younger children.”

Interested in conducting Start Smart in your community? Request information today!

Polk City Start Smart Parenting Motor Skills

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