For many children, it’s a right of passage: the fitting of the uniform, learning the lingo, practicing their high-fives, and enjoying celebratory dinners after the big game with family and friends. Organized sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball and football can improve a child’s self-esteem, teach them about teamwork and help them develop self-discipline and social skills. The City of Anniston Parks & Recreation Department offers year ’round organized sports programs for children ages two to teen.
Two years old?! Yes, around the age of two, a child’s balance and stride have reached a point where active sports play can improve her dexterity and coordination. Tot soccer and basketball programs aren’t about winning a game but more about familiarizing children with the sport—what the ball feels and looks like and how to hold and move it, interacting with other children by tossing and rolling balls to one another, and learning to trust others.
For young children interested in baseball, PARD starts them in tee-ball and/or machine ball leagues. Tee-ball is much like baseball, but instead of the batter swinging at a pitched ball, he swings at a stationary baseball placed on a “tee” or free-standing post right at swing level. When the ball is hit, the rules of baseball begin and the player runs toward first base, most of the time. It’s not uncommon for young players to run toward third base, which makes for great theatrics and good storytelling during that celebratory dinner.
In machine pitch ball, the player swings at balls being pitched from a machine. Using a machine allows coaches to slow and steady the movement of the ball as it is pitched toward the batter. The machine can also be calibrated to respond to the habits of different hitters. It’s about the joy of a child making solid contact with the ball and feeling the exhilaration of watching it fly across the field; and it’s not uncommon for the player to be so mesmerized with finally hitting the ball that he forgets to run! (More good stories!)
For elementary age children, the goals of participating in organized sports are to teach them about teamwork, good sportsmanship, following instructions and learning how rules form play and control player interactions. The roles of coaches are especially important at this age as they become role models for young players.
Anniston PARD coaches are typically citizen volunteers, usually parents of the children participating. Although many of the coaches have grown up playing the game and have a good grasp of the basics, Athletics Director Darren Spruill says his staff use a variety of methods to continue their education in youth sports. PARD holds coaching clinics, and all coaches receive training and certification to identify signs of a concussion. Players and coaches from Jacksonville State University’s soccer program present clinics for the coaches. Additionally, organizations such as the Alabama Youth Soccer Association may offer clinics in which individuals can choose to participate.
Would you be willing to help Anniston’s Baseball for Youth? We are in need of donations of bats and gloves as many of our players’ families are unable to afford them. To donate, contact Darren Spruill at (256) 820-3860, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spruill and his staff also serve as conduits for educational information, providing coaches with a constant stream of information gleaned from state and national youth sports organizations. Spruill says educational information covers everything from how to fit a football player in shoulder pads to rudimentary playing skills to the correct way to talk to children and approach sensitive information—even bullying.
As children mature into pre-teen age, their attention spans lengthen, they are more agile, and are therefore ready for greater complexity and strategy in games. This may also be the time when a child realizes that team sports aren’t for them. She may begin to feel that individual sports such as golf or gymnastics are better choices. Parents/grandparents should avoid pressuring the child to stay with the team. What is important is that she has developed habits that will help her for a lifetime.
It’s not always possible to know the impact of hitting a home run or scoring the winning goal or just playing the game will have on a child’s life. Ultimately, youth sports programs help strengthen communities as people from all walks of life come together in a spirit of cooperation and fun. Spruill muses, “Maybe it’s a chance for parents to return to their youth and remember fun times. Maybe it’s about getting to watch their children play. Perhaps, it’s just about having a good time and escaping the day to day.
For more information, contact Anniston Parks & Recreation Department Athletic Director Darren Spruill (256) 820-3860 or at email@example.com.
- February 28: Deadline to register for youth sports
- March 4: Coaches Clinic, March 4
- 5th Annual Anniston World Cup Tournament, May 20
Learn more about youth athletics here…
Homemade video of a little league game