(Youth1) –Turning 5 or 6 years old is an important time for every child because it is not only the time that they start kindergarten, but also the age that they typically enter organized sports.
But through Kids in Sports, a non-competitive specialized sports program based in 10 locations throughout the Northeast, children have the unique opportunity to develop the fundamental building blocks of athleticism as young as 12 months and up to 12 years of age.
And while many people feel that one-year-old children are too young to play and understand sports, co-founder Michael Strutt says that the program is focused on the athletic abilities of every child at his or her age. Instead of competition, Kids in Sports develops fitness, flexibility, coordination and cooperative learning through six sports: baseball, basketball, floor hockey, soccer, football and volleyball.
The program itself was founded in 1999 by Coach Mike and Kenny Colon, and taught 30 kindergarten-aged children. Since then, Kids in Sports expanded to include younger children as the need for such a program became evident. “Some of the mothers of children said that it was a shame that we didn’t work with younger children, and from there we began to include younger and older ages,” says Michael, or ‘Coach Mike’ to his students.
Today Kids in Sports teaches over 1,200 children per week through 12-week, one-hour classes that are broken down into two-week intervals for each sport covered. Every class is additionally specialized to focus only on children of a specific age to ensure that those in attendance are learning skills appropriate to his or her development level.
“Our classes focus on what the children should be learning at a particular age,” says Mike. “So if we are doing a two-year old baseball class, we’re working on hand-eye coordination and striking skills. Our activities are tailored to each age group so that they do get a lot out of it.”
Children get the most out of each and every class as the focus is on providing challenges that children can excel at so that they feel comfortable and are able to succeed. And in every class, coaches get children excited about the games and activities by not only telling them what to do, but also showing them and leading by example.
And in addition to physical developmental skills, Kids in Sport is dedicated to providing life lessons that every child needs such as socializing and sportsmanship. Children learn socialization, teamwork and listening skills.
The most rewarding aspect for Coach Mike is at the end of every12-week class, when the Kids in Sports students prove how much they learned for an awards class. At the class, parents come to participate, and the children teach their parents what to do. “The kids get a kick out of showing their parents,” Mike says. “You see the smiles on their faces as they demonstrate what they can do and what they have learned.”
Part of the reason that the children are able to learn so much in only 12 weeks is that Kids in Sports is dedicated to finding the highest-quality coaches available. In fact, Mike says it is often the most challenging part of running Kids in Sports.
“Finding the best coaches is one of the most important things that we’ve done,” he says. “They’re very nurturing, loving, patient, sport-loving people.”
And as Kids in Sports has already expanded from Manhattan to Washington D.C., Long Island and Connecticut, it is clear that the program’s philosophy and organization skills are making the impact that Mike and Kenny intended.
Today, the goal is for Kids in Sports to begin expanding elsewhere. Mike already has a licensing agreement in the works in Honolulu and is also looking into the Boston area. But before any expansion, Mike wants to make sure that the quality of Kids in Sports is still in tact before the quantity of locations increase. “We want to expand, but we want to make sure that we do it at the right rate,” he says.
And while Kids in Sports continues to grow with it’s focus on quality developmental growth of children, students throughout the country will continue to learn and develop athletic skills and character, setting the stage for a generation of incredibly skilled athletes.
By Elizabeth Murray
With a backpack of sports equipment and 30 willing kids, Coach Mike Strutt and Coach Kenny Colon launched Kids in Sports in the fall of 1999. By last fall 2010, there were.....
The athlete stands poised in front of the basket, ball in hand, eyes focused. Someone in the background calls out her name, which is emblazoned, along with the team name, “Rookies,” on the back of her shirt. She releases the ball and for one tense moment it seems to linger in the air before hitting the rim and falling to the fl oor. “Almost!” the coach calls, and gives the player a high fi ve. Her face breaks into a wide, toothy grin, and all three-and-a-half feet of her runs to the back of the line to try again. At Kids In Sports, success is defi ned as something more important than simply getting the ball into the basket.
Founded by dads Michael Strutt and Kenny Colon, Kids In Sports, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, is an innovative athletic program offering, among other things, classes that focus on multiple sports at once—including baseball, basketball, football, volleyball, soccer, and hockey— giving every child a chance to fi nd a sport they really love. The program’s goal is to not only teach the fundamentals of athletics, but to instill in kids a sense of confi dence and sportsmanship, and, most importantly, a love of physical activity. “Even if they’re not going to play a team sport, we just want to get the message across that physical activity is a great thing,” says Strutt.
“Fun doesn’t only come from T.V., videogames and computers.” Strutt and Colon, who prefer “Coach Mike” and “Coach Kenny,” met in 1995 during their fi rst post-college jobs as personal trainers at New York Sports Club. They had similar backgrounds: both were athletes with degrees in athletics (Colon in exercise physiology, and Mike in physical education and personal training) and had a passion for working with kids that included experience with after-school programs. They also shared an entrepreneurial spirit, and saw a need for a more comprehensive kids’ athletic program than what was available in New York at the time. “A lot of people who ran after-school programs were good with kids, but they didn’t necessarily have any sports knowledge,” says Strutt. “I think we said to ourselves, ‘wait a minute, that’s the way they’re teaching how to dribble a basketball or throw a baseball?’”
The two launched Kids In Sports in 1999 as an after-school program for 30 kindergarteners through 4th graders at the Allen-Stevenson School on the Upper East Side. In the beginning, Strutt and Colon had a limited budget and fondly recall making their own sports equipment. “We actually used a plunger for a batting T and bats we made out of noodles,” says Strutt. “But the great thing was that the children loved the creativity that we brought, and they learned how you can create sports games with really anything,” adds Colon. Their passion for sports and dedication to teaching attracted families to the program and kept budding athletes coming back. Ten years later, Kids In Sports has expanded to an enrollment of 1,000 children between the ages of 1 and 10, with classes held at several locations on the Upper East Side. Now, Strutt and Colon utilize topnotch equipment. Classes are held once per week, with six sports practiced two to three consecutive times over a 12-15 week session, ending with an achievement awards day. When athletes reach age 5, they can choose to focus on one sport for an entire session or continue taking multi-sport classes. Indoor and outdoor summer camps and birthday parties are offered for children through age 12 and take place throughout the city.
A key part of Strutt and Colon’s program is consistency: from “Tiny Athletes” (12- to 18-month-olds) to “Veterans” (9 and 10-year-olds), all participants begin with warm-up exercises, followed by activities that hone their individual skills, and the chance to play the sport in a group setting. The class ends with a cooperative learning game like tug-of-war. “We show them how to give a high five or shake hands—how to win and how to lose,” says Colon.
The skills taught at each level are age-appropriate and serve as building blocks for the next level class. “When we’re teaching basketball to 12- to 18-month-olds, they will really just be dumping the ball, however they get it into the basket,” says Colon. “They are working on their reach, their strength, and their coordination. The next level up will be pushing it, then push and jump, and before you know it, they get their hands into the right position for shooting.”
But the skill considered most valuable at any age level? Confi dence. Coaches use positive reinforcement to assure kids that whether or not the ball winds up in the basket, they did a great job just shooting the ball. Each class has an excellent coachto- child ratio (typically one coach for every four or fi ve children). And the language coaches use is purposeful and repetitive: phrases like “push the ball to the basket” and “hug the ball” are familiar by the time kids graduate the program or move on to the next level, a consistency that prepares kids for the structure of athletic programs in grade and high schools. Strutt and Colon interview hundreds of people to fi nd the right coaches for their program. They must go through training programs, starting out as support coaches and learning Kids In Sports’ language and teaching methods.
The founders’ own love of children informs their dedication to Kids In Sports. Both Strutt, who is dad to 12-year-old twin boys, Matthew and Michael, and 7-year-old daughter Emily, and Colon, who has a 2-year-old son, Kenzel, truly believe in the skills as well as the bigger messages the program imparts. “Everything that we’ve taught our kids here, I’ve tried to teach my son,” says Colon. Strutt says he gets a feeling of pride every time he sees a child on the street wearing the Kids In Sports t-shirt. “Yes, it’s our business,” he says, “but we also look at every kid in the program as our kid.”
Back in the gymnasium, another group of athletes is warming up—stretching, walking on tiptoe, and skipping. When one little boy becomes frustrated after having some trouble with his lunges, a coach is there by his side, gently correcting his movements and making sure he’s not left behind. “We realize how much sports has been a part of our lives and how it molded us as people,” says Colon. “We want to do that same thing for these children.”