As a Better Sports for Kids Quality Program provider, Naval Air Station Norfolk’s Youth Sports and Fitness department in Virginia has been engaging participants in a variety of innovative ways that stretch beyond traditional programming.  

And the young athletes have been reaping the benefits, especially from a unique mentoring program that has been a huge hit.  

Their outstanding efforts through this program helped them earn the Excellence in Youth Sports award. 

“We’re thankful and honored to receive this award, which is a good benchmark to know you are on the right track,” said Anan Little, Youth Sports and Fitness Coordinator at Norfolk. “The parents are thrilled, as a lot of them have been on the journey with us since the beginning. So everyone is genuinely happy.” 

The prestigious award is presented by the National Alliance for Youth Sports and Athletic Business magazine for a specific initiative, process, project, campaign, element or component of a program that goes above and beyond. In order to be eligible for an Excellence Award an organization must first earn the Better Sports for Kids Quality Program Provider designation, which demonstrates that a program has taken the necessary steps to ensure quality throughout their program.


Introduced in 2019 by the Norfolk recreation staff, its mentoring program features sailors with athletic backgrounds connecting with youth teams throughout the season to provide one-on-one instruction, motivation, and lots of fun-filled experiences along the way, too. 


“You can see the spark in the kids, they’re excited to have something extra to look forward to at practice,” said Jacob Ayers, Child and Youth Program assistant. “They’re excited to have the sailors come back to work with them. And the sailors are really excited that we have a program like this because they’re always looking for a way to give back.” 

Since the program’s inception its impact has been far-reaching and long-lasting. For starters, the players’ skills are improving dramatically courtesy of the individualized coaching; the kids have been inspired to keep working hard throughout their seasons to continue raising their level of play; and friendly games that have been contested between the sailors and the young athletes have produced countless memorable moments for all involved.  

And special connections are forged along the way as the sailor love having the opportunity to work with, coach and mentor the young players while passing along their knowledge of sports that have been a big part of their lives.

"Kids are establishing those relationships with their coaches, and when they see Sailor John, for example, coming in every Wednesday they know they can count on him to be there too, and that means that sailor has made a connection with that teenager," Little said. "By nature, then Sailor John is communicating with the parents, so it's full circle. We're trying to create a good, stable community and give the kids positive role models."

Parents of the young athletes have been thrilled by the impact of the program, as well. They have seen their kids' enjoyment of sports blossom courtesy of the skills and confidence they have been gaining through these additional learning opportunities, which have proved to be a wonderful supplement to the instruction they are receiving from their volunteer coaches.

And the recreation staff has thoroughly enjoyed seeing the kids energized by these additional skill-developing opportunities, which has added another layer of fun and excitement to the season while building that all-important foundation for leading a lifetime of healthy physical activity.  

“We’re providing a chance for teens to have everlasting memories,” Ayers said. “This gets a lot of teens interested and retains them throughout the years.” 

Norfolk Mentoring Coaching Excellence Award

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