Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alternatives for child athletes whose local schools say, "Your kind is not welcome here."

Guest post by Mark Jerome

Finding the right youth sports program for your child can be as complicated and challenging as finding the right school.


  • Will my child learn?
  • Competitive vs recreational?
  • Costs?
  • Location?
  • Ability to provide exposure?
  • Will s/he feel safe?
  • Will the program be a social match?
and, on and on...

In the end, it would be great to look back and know that your child’s experience was positive. So how does one define a positive program?

As the Executive Director of the Riverside Hawks Organization, I receive calls and emails daily from children, teens and parents. When I do, I explain who we are and offer everyone an opportunity to observe us in some form. After assessing goals and priorities of the parent(s) and child, I advise parents on how to select a program that best fits their needs. Sometimes it is my program. Other times I’ll make recommendations that more closely align to what they are seeking.

Because the youth sports industry is rapidly growing, this is not a difficult task. There is generally a program to suit each family unlike years ago when very few programs existed. Back then you could count the competitive programs on one hand. If you played for one of those teams, you were a rock star. Today, as more and more children and teens are playing sports, these programs aren’t just for the rock stars. Now many parents who expect their children to have a great education, also want their children to have the same experience with sports. Fortunately, there are many more options these days from competitive programs to ones that cater to those who are not quite experienced enough to compete on the top ranks or who may not want to spend the many required hours to play on a highly competitive program.

Along with choice though, comes the need to discern which program is best for your child.  It’s much like when a parent decides which school or learning environment makes the most sense. To do this parents typically seek an environment that will challenge their children, be safe, and be a place where their child can grow mentally and develop appropriate social behavior. Parents put a great deal of trust in the institutions where they send their children and have high expectations. The same should be true for a sports program.

Years ago, programs were discovered via word of mouth or teams would find top players through a connection and ultimately recruit those athletes to their organizations. Today, the Internet has categorically helped shape how we locate programs. If someone were to search youth basketball programs, several would pop up. Just as with finding the right school, however, computers will only take you so far on this journey. The Internet is a start, but research does not end there.

Your next step...

You have to talk to directors and coaches, who will be able to answer your questions on things like:

  • What is the level of competition?
  • Are there tryouts?
  • Is there travel and if so where is the travel?
  • When are games and practices?
  • What are the costs?
  • Location?
Once you have answers to questions like those, the next step is to observe or participate in a practice or two if the program is amenable. After checking out a few practices and speaking to a few coaches, you should be able to gather a sense of the program’s culture and attitude. It is also helpful to try to build a relationship with someone on that particular program’s staff. The program may or may not the fit your child needs at the time, but perhaps it will be a match in the future. Additionally, in the interim, a coach will be offer guidance and suggest an alternative.

From a program director’s perspective the phone calls we appreciate most are from parents who say things like, “My child is not the best...” or “I would like to place my child in a program where he/she can learn,” as opposed to those touting their child’s accolades. Programs have systems in place to assess children’s skill level as necessary. The program staff will let you know if / what they need to display evidence of your child’s abilities. It is best to wait for such requests before providing videos, stats, etc.  

Advice for children
Coaches are always seeking out talent. It is in the coach’s best interest to either discover new talent or boast that they molded someone into a great player. Most competitive programs have open tryouts once or twice a year. Another way they discover new talent is by conducting workouts. If you are seeking a competitive program, which applies to most young people who take the initiative to research a program, I suggest calling and developing relationships with multiple teams and organizations.

Here’s what you’ll want to find out.  

  • When are tryouts?
  • Are there workouts currently taking place?
  • How do they prefer to be contacted?
  • you (and a family member or friend) meet with coaches in person during a practice?
  • While researching and finding the right team, take your time in determining the level of competition you desire, your availability and your level commitment you are able to make. Each child needs to feel comfortable athletically and socially while also having time to balance learning and family time. For those who need it, some programs have a structured educational support system to aid in academic development.

    Children are our most valued treasures. We want them to create and develop healthy relationships as well as learn to become independent. Youth sports can be a great path for our children and teens to transition into independent, solid decision makers and team players. As parents we will have a tremendous influence in their development including selecting the proper program with matching criteria. Fortunately there are more and more programs that may fit your family’s needs.  

    Whether your child is at the top of his game, or just learning his game...the star of the school team or the king of the court at the local playground, this advice will get you on the road to finding a program that’s just right.


    If you have questions or would like additional information, please email Mark Jerome at

    Editor’s note: Today's New York Times asked, "Should homeschooled kids be allowed to play on school teams?" prompted by a front page story on the topic. My answer? "Hell yes they should." 
    Grown unschooler Kate Fridkis who contributes to this blog agrees. Read her response to the debate here. Parents are paying taxes for schools that in many cases are not providing an adequate learning experience for children or at least one that does not match the quality their children can receive without school. In a free country young people should be given the freedom to learn in ways that work best for them and their family. This means they SHOULD have access to school offerings, even though they may not want everything forced upon them. If schools are so wonderful afterall, shouldn't they optional, rather than compulsory? 

    Unfortunately if you live in states like New York, that discriminate against athletes who have rejected the system as a whole for their children, there are options for choosing a sporting program. You don't have to go to school to be a successful athlete. In fact home educated young people may be able to join other famous homeschooling athletes (Venus & Serena Williams, Timothy Tebow, Jason Taylor, Michelle Kwan, Bode name a few) who are living examples that homeschooling works for successful atheletes. While several states invite homeschooled students to be participate in their school’s sports team, when that’s not the case, there are many programs available outside of school. This article was written by the director of one of them.

    1 comment:

    1. If our kids aren't welcome on their sports teams, then our dollars shoulnd't be, either!

      Thanks for all of this information. It will be helpful if we ever have to consider a public school sports team. So far we've been able to cover all of her sports interests (taekwondo, basketball, t-ball/baseball, and soccer) via homeschool groups and the community rec center, but as she ages that may change.