As we navigate the murky waters of distance education across the nation, many children have lost what they needed most: The opportunity to stay active playing team sports with friends and having a positive community that supports their growth and development. Many children have seen these opportunities taken away due to safety concerns of the current health crisis. However, as our nation moves towards reopening schools and "catching students up" academically, the need for extracurricular and sports opportunities will be critical for our most disadvantaged youth.
"This sports program changed my child's life," are reactions and testimonies often heard said from parents to our program staff. The Greater Youth Sports Association (GYSA) provides elementary schools a positive youth development afterschool program that leverages sports to teach every child the importance of education, social emotional skills and character. While the kids love the aspect of being able to engage in school-based sports—wearing uniforms and having fun with their friends—they're also developing and growing their critical skills that last a lifetime.
In a year where sports were cancelled, GYSA created a virtual sports program that provided every child a ball and a plan to stay active and play the sport they love, even from home. Keeping sports accessible for all children is the number one goal. GYSA is very intentional in its program curriculum, focusing on developing the life skills that translate to academic and future success.
INCREASING DAILY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY LEVELS
Regular participation in physical activity and higher levels of physical fitness have been linked to improved academic performance. Coming off a year (and possibly more) of distance education with sedentary life changes at an early age could lead to devastating health issues. Increases in screen time and decreases in daily physical activity levels could cause more children to fall into overweight/obese categories. Prior to the pandemic, one in three kids in the U.S. were overweight or obese. Because children spend so much time at school, schools have a unique opportunity to help children become healthier and more active. GYSA's afterschool sports program allows children to receive up to 240 more minutes of physical activity during the school week.
IMPROVED SOCIAL EMOTIONAL SKILLS
Research has demonstrated the significant role of SEL in promoting healthy student development and academic achievement. The GYSA sports program delivers weekly SEL lessons to participating students focusing on areas such as self-management, responsible decision-making, self-awareness and relationship skills. These lessons are taught during hands-on lessons and experienced in a team sport environment with the coach as the mentor. Students not only learn sports skills but also the more important life skills that set a foundation for academic achievement.
With programming operating in two different states and positive year over year growth, GYSA is on pace to achieving its grand goal of impacting 100,000 children each year. The need for accessible sport opportunities have never been greater. 70% of low-income children never play a sport, primarily due to the costs. Accessibility has become a serious issue impacting equity in youth sports, and the benefits are too great to let these inequities continue. More school-based solutions need to be provided at the elementary level to ensure a successful future for our youth. Sports have a unique ability to engage and develop our children into healthy productive leaders of tomorrow.
Devonte Woodson M.Ed., is a graduate of Washington State University and Founder of Greater Youth Sports Association. Woodson is also an NAA Executive member and a 2021 NAA Next Generation of Afterschool Leaders Honoree.
Photos courtesy of Devonte Woodson.