Itasca area student success work marked a milestone in May: for the first time ever, coaches and organizers of youth sports met to discuss their work. Over the next few weeks, we’ll bring you some of the voices from this important conversation, starting with Isaac Meyer, community engagement manager at KOOTASCA Community Action, who kicked off the event with these comments.
Those familiar with my work at KOOTASCA know I work on expanding high-quality after-school opportunities for kids. I’ve been working with a group of fantastic community leaders to bring a Boys & Girls Club to our community. I can’t tell you how excited we are to be working on that opportunity! But we know that, even if we opened our doors tomorrow and could serve 100 kids, we would just be scratching the surface of our community’s need. To do what needs to be done for our community’s youth will take so much more than any one person, group or even sector alone can do.
That’s why I’m so excited to be a part of a conversation on the role of youth sports in our community. Whether folks realize it or not, high quality youth sports experiences can positively impact our whole community. I don’t just mean success on the scoreboard or in tournaments (though that’s fun too). I’m talking about the difference sports can make in the lives of our kids, especially the ones who need us most.
Our schools do so much good. But when kids spend 85 percent of their time outside of school, there’s only so much they can do. That is part of what makes the Youth Voice Survey so powerful, it gives us a picture of what we, as a community, can do to support our youth.
For the first time we have a collective picture of how youth experience our community through the eyes of more than 2,300 Itasca Area students in grades 7 to 12. One thing we’ve learned: sports programs engage the most kids, by far. About half of our youth are spending time engaged with youth sports.
That’s huge. It’s an enormous amount of time, money, and support from coaches and other volunteers, schools, local governments and communities to provide those opportunities for our kids. And it’s why success not only as youth sports providers, but as youth developers, is so important!
I’m sure it’s probably not news that kids who are highly engaged in positive activities after school or in the summer do better than their peers who don’t. Most importantly of all, though, the kids who need help most, benefit the most when they have consistent high-quality after-school opportunities.
Whether it’s math scores, school attendance, positive behaviors, or school achievement, we know that youth who participate in high-quality afterschool programs do better — and that the higher quality of the program and the greater the need of the student, the greater the effect.
From where I sit, our greatest challenge is to ensure that low-income kids in our community – those kids who have the most to gain from the opportunities youth sports provide – have the same access to your program as any other child, and that every sports program can provide the high-quality after-school experience kids need.
By working together, we have plenty of opportunity for impact. The Youth Voice survey shows us that 74 percent of area youth are under-engaged in community activities.
Undoubtedly, our local sports programs have an enormous and positive effect on the youth who are now engaged, but I can only imagine the changes that could transform our community if just 5 percent more kids could be served, and if every young person in a sport had the highest quality experience possible. For myself, I’ll be working hard to bring a Boys & Girls Club to our community, but shrinking that number and seeing all kids succeed is going to take everyone doing their part where they can.