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A model program created at the University of Maine aims to improve the overall athletic experience for today's youth
by Karen Hawkes
February 1, 2008
Each year, we witness incidents in professional and collegiate sports that cause us to question the integrity of these programs. These negative trends have continued to filter down into the youth sports experience. As a result, the number of young student-athletes dropping out of sports by the time they reach high school has continued to rise, as does the need for reform.
In the fall of 2003, the University of Maine received a federal allocation secured through the office of Senator Susan M. Collins, to investigate the current status of interscholastic sports in Maine. The initiative was under the co-direction of J. Duke Albanese, co-director of Great Schools Partnership at the Senator George J. Mitchell Scholarship Research Institute and former Maine education commissioner, and Robert A. Cobb, former dean of the UMaine College of Education and Human Development. Understanding that such an important undertaking would demand expert knowledge and insight, an eighteen-member Select Panel was established. The Select Panel was responsible for discussing the common areas of concern and formulating a model that could not only be used in Maine communities, but by communities across the country, to improve the overall athletic experience for today’s youth.
In order to broaden their view of youth and interscholastic sports, the Select Panel interviewed various stakeholders, including game officials, coaches, and middle level athletic directors. However, no target group was more insightful than the student-athletes themselves. In March 2004 the University of Maine held a Youth Sports Summit, inviting over 300 student-athletes to attend. The student-athletes spent the day in focus groups, speaking candidly about their sport experiences. Not only did the students’ voice form the foundation for the initiative, it reminded us all of the true purpose of youth and interscholastic sports programs.
On January 6, 2005, the University of Maine released Sports Done Right: A Call to Action on Behalf of Maine’s Student-Athletes. The report is centered around seven core principles and supporting core practices that describe what healthy sports programs look like.
The seven core principles along with a brief description are:
Philosophy, Values and Sportsmanship – Athletic participation must be healthful, positive, and safe for everyone involved. As a public activity with clear rules, immediate accountability and a real outcome, Sports Done Right creates an environment for instilling core values such as discipline, respect, responsibility, fairness, trustworthiness and good citizenship.
Sports and Learning – Learning and personal growth form the foundation for interscholastic and intramural sports. Young people who play sports make a voluntary – and often passionate – commitment to their activity, enhancing their learning opportunities.
Parents and Community – Parents and community are actively involved in creating and supporting an environment that fosters positive athletic experiences. The sports programs that thrive are characterized by strong mutual support offered in a positive spirit by parents, coaches and the greater community.
The Quality of Coaching – The coach is the key to making the student-athlete experience appropriate, positive and educational. The autocratic coaching model of the past will no longer suffice. Today’s coach must have multiple skills – in organization, communication, motivation, and especially in teaching.
Opportunity to Play – Each student who meets the eligibility standards has the opportunity to participate and learn through sports. Socio-economic status must never be a barrier to participation. The lessons of sport must not be denied to any student whose grades and behavior merit the privilege of participation.
Health and Fitness – Participation in sports builds self-confidence while teaching good health and fitness habits to last a lifetime. Done appropriately, athletics provide the instruction, incentive and setting for developing and maintaining sound, active minds and bodies.
Leadership, Policy and Organization – High-quality athletic programs are build upon a foundation of strong leadership, clear policy, adequate resources and effective organization. Athletic program quality and effectiveness are contingent upon strong leadership, adequate resources and effective policy and decision-making procedures that combine to create a robust organizational structure.
Over 200 Maine communities have expressed an interest in implementing Sports Done Right. In addition, hundreds of individuals across the country representing over 40 states have contacted the Maine Center for Sport and Coaching for more information. The high interest in Sports Done Right speaks to its timeliness and value.
Sports Done Right is a unique tool. All stakeholders including coaches, school officials, student-athletes, parents and community have a responsibility. In order for Sports Done Right to stick, community engagement and conversation must take place. Parents and community members need to understand what is acceptable, as do student-athletes, coaches and school officials. If each stakeholder understands the expectations and philosophy, a common language known as Sports Done Right will be embedded into the sports program.
No one said it would be easy. Change takes time and hard work. However, we owe it to the kids to finally take a stand and give the game back to its rightful owner. For more information about the Sports Done Right initiative, including a copy of the report, visit www.sportsdonerightmaine.org.