Jacksonville (Ala.) Parks and Recreation making positive difference in kids' lives


Jamie Champion, athletic director for Jacksonville (Ala.) Parks and Recreation, wanted to learn more on how to improve his youth sports program without having to travel too far.
After hearing that a special Academy for Youth Sports Administrators (AYSA) was being held in the neighboring state of Georgia, Champion knew this was just the way.
The AYSA is a professional sports administrator certification program offered by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). By attending an Academy, administrators earn three Continuing Education Units (CEU) and the coveted title of Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA).
“I do highly recommend the Academy for anyone who is involved in running a youth sports program,” he said. “I’ve done this job for a while and I’ve had a lot of ideas. The Academy took all these thoughts and ideas that I had and kind of put them in a nice package.”
Champion attended an Academy at the Rock Creek Park Recreation Center in Dawsonville, Ga., where Dawson County Parks and Recreation served as the host organization.
Among the many concepts, programs and trends that Champion learned about was the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYCSA). The NYSCA is an education/membership program offered by NAYS that trains and educates volunteer youth sports coaches on appropriate and effective ways to coach a youth team.
When Champion heard what the program was all about, he realized that it was just what his community was looking for.
“I’ve always wanted to do something like NYSCA and the Academy showed me how,” he said. “The main thing is, through my experience, a lot of time you ask a parent to coach and they have no background with educating children. When you really look at it, you need to educate those coaches to be able to relate to kids. Hopefully, by educating our coaches our children will benefit from it.”
After returning from the Academy, Champion immediately instituted the NYSCA program in his community and mandated it for all his youth sports coaches. In fact, Jacksonville Parks and Recreation managed to qualify for a grant on behalf of The Daniels Fund, which allowed them to offer NYSCA training and membership to its head coaches free of charge.
Typical NYSCA clinics consist of watching the Introduction to Coaching Youth Sports video, followed by a sports-specific video that covers skills and drills. Champion got creative with his clinics and was able to recruit some help for the sports specific section.
“For basketball we used the NYSCA video for the first part, but for the second part we had Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville State University coaches come in and teach,” he said. “What we came to find out was people who were going through the clinics expected the college and high school coaches to be emphasizing winning, but they were emphasizing learning the fundamentals in youth sports.”
Emphasizing the fundamentals, Champion admits, is his greatest challenge with his youth sports coaches. Although coaches are sometimes concerned with winning, the youth leagues of Jacksonville Parks and Recreation are intended to be recreational that focus on development and learning. NYSCA training helped to reinforce that.
“The biggest change I think is going to be our coaches will be more geared toward teaching the fundamentals of the game and how to play,” he said.
Other than deemphasizing winning, NYSCA training also helps to eliminate poor adult behavior at youth sporting events.
“We’ve never had a violent incident in a practice or game, but I still believe that if you don’t do something proactive to prevent it, it can always happen,” said Champion.
Jacksonville Parks and Recreation, which serves approximately 600 children annually, is using NYSCA training for soccer, basketball, baseball and softball coaches. So far the feedback from the local community has been great, and people are beginning to notice a difference in the league.
“The biggest thing we did implement from the Academy was a blind draft system and that so far has been a big success,” said Champion.
Now Jacksonville youth are learning the right way to play the sports they love, without pressure from adults over whether they win or lose.

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